MANNHEIM - 2010 is far from the first time the IIHF World Championship has come to Germany. The tournament has a long and illustrious history in this part of the world.
Canada and Russia are considered top medal contenders this year, and that's not a surprise when you take a look back. Apart from the 2001 tournament, where the Czech Republic won a third consecutive title, those two traditional hockey superpowers have claimed every gold medal at German-based Worlds.
In 1930, Germany wasn't supposed to host the World Championship, but warm weather in Chamonix, France left the ice in bad shape, so the final games were played in Berlin. The move paid off for the Germans, who beat Switzerland 2-1 to claim the European title. However, they fell 6-1 to Canada in the World Championship game.
In 1936, the World and European Championships were combined with the Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. This tournament was marred by controversy. Canada protested the number of Canadian-born players representing France and Great Britain, but failed to get its rivals disqualified. In the gold medal game, Canada lost 2-1 to the British. Germany finished an unremarkable fifth.
Four West German cities hosted the 1955 World Championship, which turned into a Cold War grudge match. The Soviet Union had won its first-ever title at the 1954 tournament in Stockholm, and Canada was out for revenge on the Big Red Machine. The Penticton Vees pounded Russian star Vsevolod Bobrov physically in their climactic 5-0 victory, ending up with a record of 8-0.
1975 brought the championships to Munich and Düsseldorf. As described in Vladislav Tretyak's book The Hockey I Love, the Soviet national team paid its traditional visit to the Blue Room of the newspaper Pravda the day before leaving. The journalists gave them the puck with which the Soviets had won the 1964 championships, and asked them to bring back the winning puck from West Germany. The gimmick worked, as the Soviets claimed the gold with a 10-0 record, scoring 90 goals and allowing just 23.
In 1983, the Soviets iced one of their strongest lineups ever in Dortmund, Düsseldorf and Munich. They easily won their nineteenth title, tying Canada's record at the time. Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov, Sergei Makarov, Vyacheslav Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov and Tretyak claimed all the spots on the tournament all-star team. In the standings, West Germany earned 11 points to East Germany's six.
At the 1993 tournament, Boris Mikhailov took over the reins of the Russian national team from international hockey's all-time winningest coach, Viktor Tikhonov. Despite Eric Lindros's tournament-leading 17 points for Canada, Russia ended up beating Sweden in the finals. Germany finished a surprising fifth, ahead of both the USA and Finland.
With these exciting memories in mind, it's not surprising that come 1999, 16 German cities were vying for the honour of hosting the 2001 tournament. Hanover, Cologne and Nuremberg were the successful candidates that emerged out of a final pool of five that also included Dortmund and Munich.
Even though Wayne Gretzky joined Team Canada's braintrust for the first time as Executive Director, it wasn't to be his country's year. Canada was eliminated by the U.S. in the quarterfinals, opening the way for the Czechs to march to the finals versus Finland, where they rallied for a 3-2 OT win courtesy of forward David Moravec. Goalie Milan Hnilicka, along with World Championship stalwarts Robert Reichel and Martin Rucinsky, cracked the tournament all-star team.
Meanwhile, under defensive-minded head coach Hans Zach, the host Germans made the quarterfinals for the first time since 1996. Ties with the Czechs and Canada, plus an opening-day victory over Switzerland, gave German fans in 2001 plenty to cheer about.
Will 2010 see Canada and Russia back in the driver's seat, or will we witness a surprising outcome in light of all the upsets that have already taken place in the Preliminary Round? Fans in Cologne and Mannheim are in for a treat either way as the action heats up.