Top 10 Most Important Canadian International Ice Hockey Tournaments: Part 1
It need not be stressed that ice hockey is ingrained within Canadian culture. Spawned from Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian stick and ball games on ice, the first recognized ‘modern’ ice hockey game took place in Montreal in 1875. Ever since, we’ve devoured the game, putting in nearly 150 years of blood, sweat and tears to ensure that our nation is recognized as the best in the world.
Given the late 19th century societal thirst for international competition, coupled with modern innovations that made for easier travel and global interaction with one another, the first modern Olympic games held in Athens in 1896 gave birth to something incredible. Several other specific international sports competitions have spawned from the Olympics, including both World and Continental Cup clashes in a variety of sports.
The International Ice Hockey Federation (originally referred to as the Ligue Internationale de Hockey sur Glace) was formed in 1908 in Paris (now based in Zurich, Switzerland). Cohesively understood rules were recognized by the five original founding nations (of which Canada was NOT a part of), and inaugural competitions within Europe began as early as 1910.
Canada’s first ever recognized international ice hockey match was played that very year; a decisive 8-1 thumping over Switzerland in the small Swiss village of Les Avants. A team of Canadian citizens who all attended the University of Oxford in England made up the national team that represented the country in the European Championships, unbeknownst to most of our nation back home.
The Oxford team’s games did not count towards the final standings of the tournament, though they destroyed all opponents and would have handily skated away with the gold medal. The Oxford Canadians again represented the country in the 1912 LIHG Championships, placing 2nd. They did not compete in either the 1913 or 1914 editions before the First World War put a halt to the budding international game.
It was 100 years ago that the first true nationally recognized representative for Canadian ice hockey competed in the 1920 Summer Olympics. The Winnipeg Falcons finessed and dipsy-doodled their way to winning the first ever Olympic gold medal in the sport. Due to professionals being prohibited from competing in the Olympics and the annual IIHF World Championships, Canada would often send their best senior amateur club, the one who had typically most recently won the Allan Cup to compete as the national team.
Due to the stunted development that most of the rest of the ice hockey world suffered prior to the Second World War, whoever represented Canada would more often than not slap their opponents silly. Thankfully however, we’ve now seen a rapid increase in competition from several European countries, as well as the United States, making Canada’s quest for gold much more difficult.
This countdown will list the top 10 most important international tournaments in which Canada has ever had the fortune of competing (and winning). Criteria for determining the countdown includes (but is not limited to) the significance it had on national morale and pride, sheer dominance over all the opponents, the effects it had on the sport as a whole, whether the country were hosts to provide that much more pressure, the notable players involved that provided a greater legacy to the tournament, and the overall excitement that various games brought forth.
Absolutely any tournament that Canada has ever competed in is up for consideration. Olympics (men’s, women’s, Paralympics), World Championships, Canada Cups, World Junior Championships, International Friendlies, you name it. It does not have to be recognized specifically as a sanctioned IIHF tournament to qualify for this list (for example, the Canada Cup and subsequent World Cup of Hockey tournaments have no affiliation to the IIHF). Nearly a thousand international ice hockey tournaments have been contested that have featured a Canadian squadron, and hundreds of medals have been won.
Everything has been considered, internally debated, and given a fair chance to crack the list.
However, the subjective criteria listed above yielded ten choices that should seem undeniable to Canadian hockey fans. There will be several selections that are sure to spark fond memories for those who have witnessed or read about it, and there very well could be a couple selections that have fizzled out of our collective retention within the abundance of success we have since achieved. Nonetheless, here are numbers 10-6 of the top 10 most important international ice hockey tournaments that Canada has ever been a part of.
Source: Lars Baron/Getty Images
10. 2006 PARALYMPICS
Kicking off the countdown is the only men’s sledge hockey squadron to come away with a gold medal during the Paralympics. Held a few weeks after the culmination of the Torino games, the local Esposizioni hosted 8 countries looking to claim global dominance in sledge hockey. Appearing at the Paralympic games for the fourth time, the previous three gold medals had been won by Sweden, Norway, and the United States.
It was a relatively simple format: 2 groups of 4, the top 2 teams in each group qualify for the semis, and then it’s a straight up single elimination semi final and gold medal (with the semi final losers facing off for bronze). The Canadian team featured a stalwart of some of the finest athletes to ever compete in the sport, including Billy Bridges, Greg Westlake, Brad Bowden, and goaltender Paul Rosen.
Placed in Group A, they made easy work and topped Great Britain and hosts Italy by winning 9-0 and 12-0, respectively. The Norwegians were their final opponents of the group stage, and they were extremely formidable adversaries, having earned a gold medal in Nagano during the 1998 tournament, beating Canada 2-0 in the gold medal game.
Rosen finally conceded his first goal as the Norwegians once again proved they were too much to handle, coming away with a decisive 4-1 victory. Both Team Canada and Team Norway scored 22 goals over the course of the three game round-robin, though Norway only conceded once (to Canada), and Canada conceded all four of their round-robin goals to Norway. Italy and Great Britain were woeful.
Canada’s efforts allowed them to move on to the semi-finals, in which they would face Group B winners, Germany. The Germans, in what some considered to be a major upset, were victorious over the United States in their first game by a 2-1 score, then shut out Sweden 4-0 and then played to a 0-0 draw against Japan. Canada absolutely clapped the Germans 5-0 (something that may come up again during this article), and were poised for some redemption against the Norwegians, who disposed of the USA in the other semi by a score of 4-2.
Bowden opened up the scoring just under three minutes into the contest, and Rosen thwarted all 18 shots hurled his way (while Canada managed just 9 shots on goaltender Roger Johansen). Westlake and Bridges cemented the win with 2nd and 3rd period goals, and Canada came away with the gold medal thanks to a 3-0 triumph. In what was considered a successful tournament for spectators, nearly 3000 fans were present for the average contest, with just over 4000 on hand for the final game, nearly 93% of the arena’s capacity.
Bridges led the tournament in scoring, with 11 goals and 7 assists, and was named Best Forward. Rosen only conceded 4 goals in the round-robin game against Norway, finishing with an amazing 0.92 GAA, and 4 shutouts. To this day, it remains the only Canadian Para Ice Hockey gold medal, as the subsequent three Paralympic games have seen the USA three-peat for the gold.
Source: Reuters/Shaun Best
9. 2009 World Juniors
To this day, I still get chills thinking about the clock eerily ticking down before our imminent semi-final demise. Thankfully, the Gods of sporting miracles are always providing glimmers of hope and possibility. The stage was the nation’s capital, Ottawa, and the suburb dwelling Scotiabank Arena nearly had the roof blown off as those ominous aforementioned seconds ticked away.
The excitement that emanates from the Under-20 World Junior championships is so high in Canada, that we essentially are given the privilege of hosting the tournament every other year. Compared to our European comrades, you just simply won’t see that level of excitement and energy in the crowd if the tournament were to be held in the Czech Republic or Finland (unless you pack in a load of travelling Canadian supporters to clamour with rowdiness and drunken sporting nationalism).
Though Canadian hockey fanatics admire this tournament way more than other supporters in other hockey-crazed countries, it by no means is a guarantee that Canada will always emerge victorious. Sure, Canada has won the most gold medals with 18, but rapidly emerging programs in the United States, Finland, Sweden, and Russia have proven that the tournament can crown anyone as the champion (except Latvia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Denmark, who always seem to be flirting with promotion and relegation each and every year. My apologies to those countries, you’re doing your best).
As Ottawa played host, team Canada were yearning to five-peat for the second time. Couple the pressure of maintaining a dynasty with playing in front of 19000 fans on home soil and you very well might use the word ‘soil’ in a different way. The 2009 team featured the likes of John Tavares, Evander Kane, Cody Hodgson, Tyler Ennis, Patrice Cormier, PK Subban, Jamie Benn, Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan Ellis, Dustin Tokarski, and of course, Jordan Eberle. Talk about good ol’ boys.
In the four-game group stage, the team scored a whopping 35 goals, while only conceding 6. An 8-1 thrashing of the Czech Republic on Boxing Day led to a 15-0 whitewash of Kazakhstan. A 5-1 convincing win over the Germans led to a New Years Eve showdown with the USA in which both teams had 3-0 records and were determined to nab that #1 seed heading into the knockout round. 20223 people packed the Scotiabank Arena (well over 105% of its capacity) to see Canada skate away with a 7-4 win as 2008 turned to 2009.
This result pitted Canada against the Russians in the semi final on January 3rd. Russia had cruised through the group stage, but inexplicably lost 5-0 to Sweden for their only blemish (and an ugly blemish at that). Contrary to today’s format, group winners earned byes to the semis, while the 2nd and 3rd place finishers had to cross over in a modified quarterfinal. Russia easily disposed of the Czechs 5-1 to earn the right to play Canada.
Those who witnessed this match must remember the sheer pressure and anxiety as Dmitri Klopov jammed away at a ‘loose’ puck in Dustin Tokarski’s crease to take a 5-4 lead with just over two minutes to play. It seemed like Canada would finally relinquish the gold after dominating the tournament the previous four years. Canada went all-out-attack mode, with Hall of Fame coach Pat Quinn pulling Tokarski for an extra attacker with 1:24 to go. Klopov was inches away from hitting the empty net, but by sheer luck, the puck went wide by centimeters and was called for icing.
Then, Jordan Eberle. Cody Hodgson’s tremendous work ethic behind the net and out in the slot perhaps frightened the Russians, and made them panic. With just ten seconds remaining, Ryan Ellis, Zach Boychuk and Tavares all helped fish the puck back near the circle to the left of Russian goaltender Vadim Zhelobnyuk, where a Tavares backhander was weakly trapped between the knees of defenceman Dmitry Kulikov. Eberle, positioned in the slot, scooped it out from Kulikov’s lap, swept a half-stride in front of Zhelobnyuk, and buried a backhand to tie the game with just under six seconds to go. Absolute frenzy.
The emotions were so evident. Canadian players rejoicing at the prospect of not being forced to play for bronze; the Russians all bowing their heads in shame and disbelief; the crowd roaring, pulling out their phones for pictures (puke); and the exclamations of Pierre McGuire.
Of course, the job wasn’t done yet. Overtime still stood in the balance. A ten-minute extra frame produced a few chances, but nothing sensational. It would have to come down to a shootout. I can still remember with frustration having to go clean off root beer that my friend Benji spilled on me during all the excitement, thus missing the first round of 1 on 1 encounters.
Lo and behold, Eberle went first, scored, and Canada never looked back. Tavares scored as well, and Tokarski thwarted Pavel Chernov to send Canada to the gold medal game against Sweden. Much like the Miracle on Ice, most probably don’t remember the actual final game of the tournament, instead focusing all their memories on the penultimate game. As acceptable as that is, it must be said that Canada clapped Sweden 5-1, and won their fifth consecutive World Junior gold, echoing the triumphs the team had between 1993 to 1997.
Source: Global Vintage
8. 1939 World Championships
Perhaps a bit of a surprise to some, the number 8 greatest Canadian international ice hockey tournament was seen at the time as just a ‘run in the mill’. The IIHF’s World Championships had been commonplace since the beginning of the decade, and Canada would traditionally send their top senior amateur team to compete on behalf of the maple leaf.
The Allan Cup was awarded to the best senior team that competed for pleasure, rather than profit, and it was customary for whatever team that won the Allan Cup to not only represent Canada in the ensuing World Championship, but the quadrennial Olympic games as well.
The setting for the 1939 World Championships was Basel and Zurich, Switzerland. The team representing Canada were British Columbia’s Trail Smoke Eaters. The Smoke Eaters also had the honour of representing Canada during the 1961 World Championships, and would be victorious once again.
The world was fraught with uncertainty as Nazi Germany was wreaking havoc in Europe, having annexed Austria and claimed the chunk of Czechoslovakia known as Sudetenland. War was on the horizon, and the future of international competition in any sport was met with ambivalence and indecisiveness.
Though war seemed to be formulating in the trenches, in the air, and at sea, where it definitely would not occur was the ice rink. Trail (on behalf of Canada) absolutely clapped cheeks at the tournament, winning all six games by a combined score of 42-1. It was one of the most dominant performances ever in international competition, and not just ice hockey. Their first round whooping of both the Netherlands (8-0) and Poland (4-0) were expected, but their run through the gauntlet had just begun.
Canada was then grouped with Great Britain, Czechoslovakia and Germany in the second round of the tournament, and proceeded to thrash the Brits 4-0. Despite a seemingly tight 2-1 squeak-by of Czechoslovakia (in which goaltender Duke Scodellaro was beaten for the only time all tournament), Canada’s victory never seemed in question.
Their final round-robin matchup against the Germans can’t be classified as political. Despite their blatant fascism and quest to emerge as the ultimate superior race, it seemed as though the German team conceded defeat way before the first puck dropped. In fact, they had managed to tie Czechoslovakia and earn a victory over Great Britain. Hence, had they done the unthinkable and defeated Canada, they would have earned the 2nd overall seed behind the Swiss hosts. Alas, as I said, the result was clear from the get-go that Canada would clap them, and they did by a score of 9-0.
Canada then moved onto the final phase, where they would play each of the other three finalists once to determine the champion based on points for the wins/draw/loss tally. It was even more of a battering. The undefeated Swiss were spanked 7-0, the Czechoslovakians earned another match with Canada, this time being outclassed 4-0, and then Canada closed out their perfect tournament with a 4-0 shutout over the United States.
The lads from Trail went from Allan Cup champions to World Champions, and what’s more is that they did it with a high pedigree of class and elegance. They weren’t unsportsmanlike, they weren’t dirty, and they didn’t earn the ire from any of their competitors. The travelling tour they took part in both before and after the tournament throughout a sizable part of Europe echoed this sentiment, as fans who came to witness their matches claimed that it was one of the finest Canadian hockey teams to ever act as ambassadors. Their stick handling was second to none, and their passing was as pristine as pumpkin pie.
They played a beautiful game during a dark and uncertain period of socio-political control. In fact, it can even be argued that the hiatus that the Second World War put on the World Championships (as Nazi Germany did in fact initiate war with Poland and their allies no more than seven months after Canada spanked them) did a great deal to develop the game in many European nations. Many of their opponents 1939 and their future contemporaries sought to play just like the Canadians, and we have the champion Trail Smoke Eaters to thank for making the game flourish many years thereafter.
Source: Ottawa Citizen/Hockey Hall of Fame
7. 1990 WOMEN’S WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Perhaps infamously known as the ‘Pink Craze Tournament’ due to the pink hued jerseys that Team Canada sported, it should be duly noted that this was the first official Women’s World Championships (1987 featured an unofficial competition). 8 teams competed in Ottawa for the right to claim women’s hockey supremacy in mid-to-late March. Fran Rider, one of the founders of the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association, organized the tournament with no help from the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association.
Despite the CAHA’s initial dismissal, the IIHF was all for it, and it goes down officially as the first sanctioned tournament in the women’s game. Team Canada featured a few notable names, such as Hockey Hall of Fame inductees Angela James and Geraldine Heaney. One of my favourite little tidbits is that this was the only Women’s World Championship to allow body checking; all subsequent renditions enforced minor penalties for contact. There seemed to be an abundance of hype surrounding the games, as TSN declared that they would broadcast four matches.
Canada was placed in Group A along with Sweden, West Germany, and Japan. Good golly, was it ever ugly. A 15-1 slaughter of Sweden in the opening game was followed by a 17-0 whitewash of West Germany, and to make it even more nasty, an 18-0 dismantling of the Japanese to put their goals for/against at 50-1. Let me repeat that, 50-1!
The rough aspects of the game saw 11 players earn at least 10 minutes in penalties. Only a few teams were used to playing a more physical game, whereas other countries who were not privy to persistent body contact took on several injuries.
Both Canada and the United States were undefeated and seemed destined to face off against one another in the final. First, Canada had to deal with Finland. Despite what the score-line indicates, the 6-5 result never really seemed in doubt, and the USA’s 10-3 thumping of Sweden indeed resulted in a North American showdown for gold.
9000 supporters packed the Ottawa Civic Arena (more than the average crowd during the first few years of the reincarnated Ottawa Senators during the mid 1990s) and roughly a million viewers tuned into the TSN broadcast. Geraldine Heaney took the puck from just outside the blue-line on a counter attack, undressed the defender and scored a sensational goal.
The way she flew through the air after making slight contact with American goalie Kelly Dyer was reminiscent of Bobby Orr’s 1970 Cup-winning goal. The momentum caused by the goal allowed Canada to come away with the first ever Women’s World Championship gold by a score of 5-2.
James led the team in scoring with 11 goals and 13 points, Heather Ginzel managed 7 goals and 12 points, and the goaltending tandem of Cathy Phillips and Denise Caron kept attackers at bay with stellar shot-stopping. Phillips earned the right to start the final game, and finished the tournament with a 1.15 GAA and a .906 save percentage. Canada scored an average of over 12 goals throughout their 5 games, and would win gold in each of the first eight World Championships before finally settling for silver in 2005.
The ‘Pink Craze’, though contentious, was the talk of the country during March of 1990. Restaurants in Ottawa played up the gimmick, serving pink-coloured foods, and there was a rapid increase in pink shirt and tie sales throughout the entire year. Happy 30th anniversary to that fantastic team!
6. 1920 SUMMER OLYMPICS
Speaking of anniversaries, how about some love for the first ever Olympic representatives to play for gold exactly 100 years ago?! Though there were some European competitions as early as 1910 that featured a ‘Canadian’ squad, they were more or less ex-patriots who all attended schools in England. The 1920 Summer Olympics (yes, summer) held in Antwerp, Belgium, acted not only as the first Olympic ice hockey competition (and only one to be held during the summer, as the first ever Winter Olympics were held four years later in Chamonix, France), but it also acted as the first World Championship.
The first World Championship succinct from the Olympics was in 1930, but the games held in 1920, 1924 and 1928 were for all the marbles to determine the World champion as well. Much like the 1939 Trail Smoke Eaters, the winner of the Allan Cup for the best Senior Amateur Canadian team would earn the right to represent the country in the Antwerp games.
Frank Fredrickson and his pals in the Winnipeg Falcons were not so affectionately known as the ‘Goolies’, a somewhat derogatory term to describe Icelandic immigrants in Canada. How soon would the prejudicial ridicule turn in their favour. The Falcons won the 1920 Allan Cup by defeating the University of Toronto 11-5 in a two-game total goals series. While they still had plenty of work to do overseas, it wasn’t long before the nation began showing their support to the gang of first generation Icelandic lads as they set off across the Atlantic.
The format used for the first ever Olympic tournament was rather flawed. The Bergvall system has its merits, but should never have been used. The system demands all teams to compete in a single knockout competition, thus deciding a clear cut winner. Then, the teams who were defeated by the winners would each play one another in a second round to determine who would claim silver.
A third round for bronze would ensue with all teams who were defeated by both the gold and silver medalists. Ultimately, whoever wins the gold is able to relax while two other rounds are still to be played that they need not worry about. Some teams very well could only play one game should they lose immediately to a team that doesn’t go on to win either gold or silver. Strange!
Other peculiar regulations that were enforced during the tournament included the use of the rover position, thus 7 players would be on the ice at all times during even strength. The dimensions of the Palais de Glace d’Anvers rink were smaller than traditional North American ice surfaces (which by today’s standards are themselves smaller than regulated rinks used for international competitions). Games were only 40 minutes long, consisting of two 20-minute periods. The Falcons arrived realizing that they were in way under their heads.
The tournament began on April 23rd. Quite strange to have the Summer Olympics start in April, but hey, what the hell right? 7 countries participated, with France receiving a bye in the first round, because hey, what the hell right? They, along with Belgium, only brought 7 players with them for the games, thus rendering those poor bastards totally screwed should they lose a player to injury. Canada themselves only brought one spare player, whereas Sweden and the United States seemed to be the only teams prepared to utilize reinforcements, bringing a roster of 11.
France used that opening round bye wonderfully by losing to Sweden 4-0, sure enough being the only game in which they’d compete. Canada dismantled Czechoslovakia 15-0 in their first game, with Haldor Halderson scoring seven goals and Frank Fredrickson burying four. A 2-0 casual shutout of the Americans allowed Canada to compete for gold against that oh-so deep roster of Swedish enthusiasts.
The Americans thought they would give Canada a decent run, having won their opening game over Switzerland 29-0. A string quartet entertained the few spectators in attendance, as well as the players, while Swiss goalie Rene Savoie had an abysmal day between the pipes. Hey, at least he was able to wear a handsome cardigan while attempting to do the job.
In the final, Canada walloped Sweden 12-1. In fact, many players on the Falcons have gone on record saying that they deliberately let Sweden score a goal towards the end of the first half just to make them feel better about themselves. The Swedes were absolutely delighted, shaking hands with each of the Canadian players before Fredrickson buried seven goals by himself to finish the brief three game triumph with twelve tallies.
Canada was then able to sit back with the first ever goal medal in Olympic Ice Hockey history and watch the USA claim silver and the Czechoslovakians earn the bronze. They returned to Canada as heroes, and the prejudicial spite towards their background waned. Four years later, the first ever Winter Olympic games were held, and Canada would again have their way en route to one of the easiest gold medals in nation’s history.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 OF THE COUNTDOWN, FEATURING PICKS #5-1!