STOCKHOLM – Sweden is hosting the World Championship for the tenth time, more than any other nation, and half a century ago it hosted one of the most dramatic tournaments in IIHF history.
Tre Kronor had won the gold medal in Colorado Springs the previous year, going a perfect 7-0-0 and beating Canada by a 5-3 score along the way, the first win in the 31-year-old rivalry between nations. It was their first perfect tournament (except 1953 when only three teams participated and Sweden won gold with a 4-0-0 record) and ushered in a golden era of Swedish hockey.
A year later, on home ice, Sweden was certainly one of the favourites. The tournament format was the same – eight teams, one group, seven games of round-robin play. A 5-1 win over East Germany to start things off was expected, but game two featured Tre Kronor and the Soviet Union. This was a major test, and the result either way would go a long way to determine the gold medallists.
Vyacheslav Starshinov scored the only goal of the opening period to give CCCP the lead, but the Swedes stormed out in the middle 20 minutes and scored twice. Nisse Nilsson and Lars-Eric Lundvall put the Swedes ahead, and then goalie Kjell Svensson did the rest. The Swedish goalie was sensational, and the game ended 2-1 Sweden.
The win surely bode well for a gold-medal run given that the Soviets were also one of the favourites. The Swedes then beat Finland, 4-0, and then had two easy games, hammering the Americans, 17-2, and West Germany, 10-2, to run up their record to a perfect 5-0-0. At this point, the Soviets were 4-0-1, the lone blemish that loss to Tre Kronor.
The Czechoslovaks were 3-1-0 thanks to a tie with Canada, which was also 3-1-0. The gold was there for the taking provided Sweden could beat Canada and the Czechoslovaks in the final days, no easy task, to be sure.
Two days later, Sweden did, in fact, beat Canada just as they had the previous year. The score was 4-1 and improved Tre Kronor’s record to 6-0-0 with one game left. The loss took Canada out of the running for gold, and when the Soviets beat the Czechoslovaks, 3-1, the chase for gold was pretty much a two-horse race. The difference was that the Soviet Union was powerless to get in the way now – provided Sweden won its final game.
The Soviets did the only thing they could – win their final two games. They beat the U.S., 9-0, and Canada, 4-2, to finish the tournament with a 6-0-1 record, but they still had to wait one more day for the final game, Sweden versus Czechoslovakia.
Sweden needed only a tie to claim gold, but the Czechoslovaks also needed only a tie to break a tie with Canada to claim third place and win the bronze medal. Both teams had something to play for in that final game, so all bets were off.
This time it was Sweden that scored the only goal of the opening period, thanks to Nils “Nicke” Johansson. Forty minutes from gold!
However, it was CSSR that came out and dominated the second period, scoring three unanswered goals to take a solid 3-1 lead into the final period. Now, Sweden needed two goals to rally for first place.
Sven “Tumba” Johansson got one goal back, but it wasn’t enough. Sweden and the Soviets finished with identical records and the same number of points – 12 – but the Soviets took top place because of a superior goal differential (50-9=41 vs. 44-10=34). The Czechs finished alone in third with 11 points and Canada was off the podium with nine points and fourth place.
Sweden didn’t win gold again until 1987 while the Soviets won their first of what was to be seven gold medals in a row at the World Championship. The Soviet roster in 1963 included some eight players and coach Anatoli Tarasov who were inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame while the Swedish roster claimed five players and coach Arne Stromberg as future inductees.
It was a World Championship for the ages – and it was played 50 years ago.