March 21 & 28, 1969 — Stockholm, Sweden
There is absolutely no doubt that the most emotionally charged games in the history of international hockey were the two between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union in the 1969 IIHF World Championship in Stockholm. These were two games which the Czechoslovaks simply could not lose.
“We said to ourselves, even if we have to die on the ice, we have to beat them,” said team captain Jozef Golonka in an interview many years later. “We received hundreds of telegrams from fans back home when we arrived in Stockholm. Almost all of them said: ‘Beat the Soviets. You don’t have to beat anyone else. Just beat the Soviets.’”
Canadian goaltender and future Hall of Famer Ken Dryden made his first international appearance in that championship: “Even though this was my first and only World Championships, the only thing I or anyone else remembers about them were the Soviet-Czechoslovakian games. They were fantastic.”
The 1969 tournament was originally allocated to Czechoslovakia, but the country declined to organize the event following the Soviet led Warsaw-Pact invasion of the country in August 1968. It was of course the occupation that put its mark on and totally overshadowed the two Czechoslovakia vs Soviet Union clashes at the Johanneshov ice stadium in Stockholm on March 21 and 28.
The Soviets came in having won the last six World Championships and three out of the last four Olympics and they were the better team. But there was no way the Czechoslovaks could lose to the Soviet team, who by opponents were viewed upon as representing an occupying power. The Soviet players just wanted to play hockey, but they were reminded in every shift by the vocal Czechoslovaks that this wasn’t to be about sports.
Playing with unprecedented national fervour, Team CSSR outhustled the Soviets 2-0 on March 21 and 4-3 one week later in the return game. In the footage from game one, after defenceman Jan Suchy had given CSSR a 1-0-lead, one can see how Jaroslav Holik taunts Soviet goaltender Viktor Zinger after the goal, poking his stick repeatedly at Zinger’s face, calling him a “bloody communist”. Holik even put hockey tape over the Czechoslovak crest on his jersey, covering the star that symbolized the country’s allegiance to the Warsaw Pact.
It was the first time since 1961 that the Soviet Union lost two games in one championship and it was the first time ever that the USSR lost two games against the same opponent in one IIHF event.
Amazingly, Czechoslovakia did not win gold, not even silver medals. After each of the draining encounters with the Soviet Union, the Czechoslovaks could not generate the same sentiments against Sweden. They lost both games against the home team, 2-0 and 1-0, and could only get bronze medals due to lesser goal differential. But in a larger context, their mission was accomplished.
As part of the IIHF's 100th anniversary celebrations, www.IIHF.com is featuring the 100 top international hockey stories from the past century (1908-2008). Starting now and continuing through the 2008 IIHF World Championships in Canada, we will bring you approximately three stories a week counting down from Number 100 to Number 11.
The Final Top 10 Countdown will be one of the highlights of the IIHF's Centennial Gala Evening in Quebec City on May 17, the day prior to the Gold Medal Game of the 2008 World Championship.
These are the criteria for inclusion on this list: First, the story has to have had a considerable influence on international hockey. Second, it has to have had either a major immediate impact or a long-lasting significance on the game. Third, although it doesn't necessarily have to be about top players, the story does have to pertain to the highest level of play, notably Olympics, World Championships, and the like. The story can be about a single moment — a goal, a great save, a referee's call — or about an historic event of longer duration — a game, series, tournament, or rule change.