Luc Robitaille the hero as Canada wins first World Championship in 33 years
May 8, 1994 — Milan, Italy
It is inconceivable that Canada, a country virtually unbeatable for the first 30 years of IIHF history, all of a sudden could not win a gold medal at the World Championship. But after the Trail Smoke Eaters won in 1961, year after year passed, and Canada failed to win gold. The 1960s was a time of amateur hockey for Canada, but in 1977 the IIHF allowed all pros to play internationally and Canada was back in international hockey after a six-year abscence. Still, Canada failed to win. Many times the teams Canada sent over were ill-prepared, often with poor attitude, but most often the simple truth was that the Soviet teams were too good.
In February 1994, however, Canada came this close to winning Olympic gold in Lillehammer, losing in a shootout to Sweden. Three months later, for the World Championship in Milan, Italy, coach George Kingston had assembled a team that even to this very day could probably win gold. The names remain impressive, indeed, starting with Joe Sakic and continuing with Paul Kariya, Rod Brind’Amour, Jason Arnott, Rob Blake, Brendan Shanahan, and Luc Robitaille.
The 12 teams played in two groups in Italy that year, and Canada was the only team to finish the round robin with a perfect 5-0-0 record (and a goal differential of +17). This led to a quarter-finals showdown with Jaromir Jagr and the Czechs. Martin Straka gave his team an early 1-0 lead, but Shanahan replied a few minutes later for Canada to make it 1-1 after the first period. The teams exchanged goals in the second, and the third was a tense 20 minutes that seemed headed toward overtime until Shayne Corson beat Petr Briza with just 2:34 left in regulation.
In the semi-finals, Canada hammered Sweden 6-0, thanks to a hat trick from Robitaille, four assists from Steve Thomas, and a shutout from Bill Ranford. This put Canada in the gold-medal game against Finland, which had advanced with a 10-0 slaughter of Austria in the quarter-finals and another pasting in the semis, this time 8-0 against USA.
Both teams played evenly for the first 40 minutes, but in the third period, Finland held a wide edge in play and shots, and Esa Keskinen scored early to give the Finns a 1-0 lead. As so frequently happens, however, Canada had late-game heroics in its repertoire, and Brind’Amour tied the game in power-play, with less than five minutes to go. A scoreless ten minutes of overtime took the game to a shootout, and even that went into extra shots.
In the first five shots, Robitaille and Sakic scored for Canada but Jari Kurri and Mikko Makela responded for Suomi. In the extra shots, though, Robitaille scored the winner on Jarmo Myllys. It was one of the most amazing shoot-out goals every scored since the IIHF introduced the format in 1992. Robitaille skated in on goal, lost control of the puck as he approached the net, but regained possession in time to make a brilliant deke on the goalie to give Canada the win. And when Mika Nieminen was thwarted by Bill Ranford in the last run, it was over. Robitaille's heroics had given Canada its first gold since 1961 at the World Championships and the win started a new run of success for the country which has now won five of the last 14 tournaments.
About the Top 100 Stories
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.