March 13, 1962 – Colorado Springs, USA
There are sports events which reach mythological proportions over time for reasons which are somewhat difficult for a worldwide audience to fully appreciate. And there is no question that Sweden’s gold-medal victory at the 1962 World Championship in Colorado Springs would probably not have been perceived as such a huge achievement by Swedish fans had not the win for ever been linked with a play-by-play radio commentary by legendary announcer Lennart Hyland. Tell the words “Den glider i màl” (“It slides into the net”) to a Swede and he will immediately refer to Hyland’s commentary of forward Nisse Nilsson’s empty-net goal that sealed Sweden’s 5-3 win over heavy favourite Canada at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
That game and victory occurred during an era when a Swedish win in hockey against Canada – any Canadian team – was bigger than life. Very few Swedes knew, or cared, that the defending world champions from Canada in 1961 was represented by an amateur club team, the Galt Terriers, in Colorado Springs. This was the first World Championship on North American ice and Sweden had never before – not in 42 years of hockey competition – defeated the Canadians in Olympic or World Championship competition. Never.
The game started at 4.15 in the morning Swedish time, and according to general belief half the Swedish population woke up to listen to Hyland’s radio commentary. Backstopped by rookie goaltender Lennart Haggroth and Ulf Sterner’s two goals, Sweden jumped to a 4-0-lead in the second period. But Canada bounced back and the score was 4-3 as the final minutes ticked off the clock. Then, the Terriers pulled goaltender Harold “Boat” Hurley for a sixth attacker. The empty-net goal that forward Nisse Nilsson scored (his second goal of the game) with an ice-length shot was technically not a game winner, but that was the puck that was accompanied all the way down the ice by Hyland’s emotional “Den glider i màààààààl…” At around 6.30 in the morning Swedish sports history was written and for the Scandinavian country this radio clip has become an integral part of its history, fully comparable with how Canadians perceive Foster Hewitt’s “Henderson has scored for Canada” in 1972.
Sweden was World Champion for the third time, but on the two previous occasions (1953 and 1957) neither Canada nor the U.S. participated for political reasons. On the other hand, neither the Soviet Union nor Czechoslovakia were present in Colorado Springs/Denver in ‘62 as the Eastern Bloc countries boycotted the event due to the United States’ refusal to give entry visas to communist ally East Germany (in protest of the erection of the Berlin Wall just seven months earlier).
But that didn’t bother the Swedes. Public opinion was that if the team with national icon Sven “Tumba” Johansson (a member of those champion teams of 1953 and 1957) could defeat Canada and the USA on North American ice they surely would have beaten the Europeans as well. The legend surrounding this game and Nilsson’s final goal grew over the years, and it would take Tre Kronor exactly another quarter of a century before they captured another World Championship title.
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.