STOCKHOLM – As Sweden gets set to meet Canada for the 62nd time in World Championship competition, it’s worth taking a look back to meeting number 5, which took place on February 16 during the 1949 World Championship in Stockholm.
This marked the first time Stockholm hosted the Worlds, and it was a tournament that was almost cancelled at the last minute because of lack of financing.
However, the daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter saved the day by contributing half a million dollars to the budget. In fact, it was later revealed that the Swedish Ice Hockey Association was hesitant about hosting for fear of lack of interest and risk of incurring a debt. Nevertheless, the show went on – and what a show it was!
Games were played at two venues: Östermalm IP and the Olympic Stadium. The Östermalm rink was outdoors and smaller than the Olympic Stadium, though they were close to each other in the centre of Stockholm. The gorgeous Stadium was built in time for Sweden to host the 1912 Summer Olympics, and for the hockey tournament organizers built a rink in the middle of the football (soccer) pitch.
Canada started the tournament by defeating Denmark 47-0, to this day the most lopsided score in top-level IIHF history. It wasn’t until the final round robin to determine the medals, however, that things got particularly interesting. On February 15, the Czechoslovaks beat Canada, 3-2, in a game which ended in a melee. The result meant that Czechoslovakia was in control of the standings, and a day later Canada played Sweden.
That game was one of the wildest in IIHF history. Capacity for the game was about 10,000 at the Olympic Stadium, but fan interest far exceeded that number. In fact, the game was delayed by nearly an hour simply because Canada’s team bus was unable to navigate the extraordinary human traffic along the roads from the team’s hotel to the Stadium. Estimates placed the number of fans outside at 50,000.
The game had been originally scheduled for the smaller Östermalm rink, but by changing to the larger Olympic Stadium at the last minute organizers created another problem – printed tickets were irrelevant and everyone had to acquire new tickets at the new venue. As well, only four turnstiles were in use and only a small police contingent was present to control the growing and feverish crowd.
To make matters worse, some 20,000 fans were lined up to get tickets, and as the size of the crowd grew, so did the impatience. In the end, the turnstiles and fencing came tumbling down, and thousands of fans poured into the Stadium.
Some 18 people had to be taken to hospital, and police considered spraying water on the fans to get them under control (a tactic that was dismissed as being too dangerous). Most of the injuries were minor, and injured fans were offered free tickets to the next international event in Stockholm.
In the end, the Canadian players got dressed, the fans settled down, and the teams played to a 2-2 tie. Attendance varied. Official reports listed capacity, of course, but many sources suggested the number of spectators in the Stadium was closer to 25,000.
The Czechs held on for gold while Canada took silver and the United States bronze. Sweden finished fourth.
Things won’t be as wild or unpredictable tonight at the Globe Arena, of course, but these two teams go way back. And, 54 years ago, they put on quite a show in old Stockholm town.