May 7, 2004 — Prague, Czech Republic
Imagine if the FIFA World Cup had never been hosted by Brazil, England or Germany. What if Norway had never had the chance to organise a major skiing championship? But in ice hockey, the IIHF’s flagship event, the men’s World Championship, has never been played in the country where the sport is a religion and where the game was invented!
By the 1960s, the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association had decided it was time this omission, and, indeed, Canada was appointed host for the 1970 World Championship, to be organised jointly by Montreal and Winnipeg. But instead of this becoming a defining moment in international hockey, it instead marked the start of the darkest period in IIHF history. The 1969 IIHF congress in Switzerland decided that Canada could use nine professional players for the 1970 tournament — long a sticking point to the CAHA - -but in January 1970, only five months prior to the event, the decision was reversed and the IIHF again prohibited the use of players who were officially professional.
The Canadians reacted by withdrawing from international hockey. They wouldn’t return until 1977, missing the 1972 and ’76 Olympics and every World Championship along the way. This, of course, strained relations between Canada and the IIHF for many years to come, and a sense of peace did not truly establish itself until the early 1990s. The IIHF allocated more and more World Junior (U20) tournaments to Canada. The country’s governing body of hockey (later re-named Hockey Canada) showed greater and greater commitment to sending good teams to the World Championships which eventually resulted in Canada’s success in 1994, the first gold medal in 33 years.
The inclusion of NHL players into the Olympics in 1998 contributed to Canada feeling even more part of the international hockey community. For the first time ever, Canada could enter the biggest sports show with its best players. When the men’s Olympic gold in 2002 was followed up by another World title in 2003, Hockey Canada finally made a bold decision – to apply to host the World Championship in 2008, the year of the IIHF Centennial celebration.
Three days before Team Canada would win yet another gold medal in the 2004 tournament in the Czech Republic, the IIHF’s annual congress convened on May 6 in Prague to vote on the 2008 allocation. The day started in thrilling fashion – and ended in anticlimax.
The first day of the congress is known as “Calendar Meeting”, when the agenda for the congress is determined and no decisions made. But this was also the day when the applying countries were to hold presentations of their bids and to distribute promotional material to the congress delegates for the all-decisive voting that would take place the next day, May 7. Canada’s bid was to be challenged by applications from Germany and Sweden.
An IIHF official had mistakenly informed Hockey Canada representatives that the entire 2008 bid process would start on the 7th and that they could relax on this first day of meetings. So, coming to the Calendar Meeting, the misinformed Canadian representatives had no material with them, while the German and Swedish delegations were as well prepared as they could have been.
Bob Nicholson, the president of Hockey Canada and the main figure behind Canada’s application, was still shaking with anger over the IIHF official’s faux-pas when he was asked to address the congress to present Canada’s bid. He had no video or flashy power-point presentations to show to the delegates and no printed material. All that was left behind in his hotel room. All Nicholson could do was to rely on his verbal skills—and he delivered the speech of his life. The president of Hockey Canada was inspirational, well spoken, and straight to the point.
Nicholson told the congress that there was no better place to celebrate 100 years of international hockey than in the country that gave the game to the world. He informed delegates that the event would be hosted jointly by Quebec City and Halifax, two of the most charming and beautiful old towns in Canada – and two true hockey hotbeds. “We have been your guests at your events for almost a century,” said Nicholson to the delegates. “Now it’s time for us, Canadians, to be your hosts when the IIHF turns one hundred.”
The congress delegates were visibly impressed. After Nicholson’s speech, the German delegate came up to the podium and said: “We believe that Canada has earned the right to organise the 2008 World Championship. Germany withdraws its bid for 2008.” Sweden, of course under pressure, also withdrew from contention moments later.
Suddenly, after a morning of distress, Canada was the only candidate left. On May 7, the day the congress was scheduled to vote on the 2008 event, there was nothing to vote on. Canada was unanimously declared host of the 72nd IIHF World Championship.
At the end it was easy, but there was lots of symbolism behind the decision. Going to Canada with its premiere event, was for the IIHF the final gesture of reconciliation with the motherland of hockey.
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.
Click here for the 100 Top Stories