LES AVANTS, Switzerland – January 10, 1910
Two years after the foundation of the Ligue Internationale de Hockey sur Glace (LIHG, the predecessor of the IIHF) it was time to play hockey.
The European Championship in the Swiss village of Les Avants, near Montreux, was the first official hockey tournament for national teams. Great Britain, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland were the official participants with the Oxford Canadians taking part in three out-of-competition games, winning each with relative ease. In the official championship, the Brits defeated Germany 1-0, Switzerland 5-1 and a 1-1-tie against Belgium was enough to claim the first ever gold medals in ice hockey. Bohemia and France withdrew two weeks prior to the tournament.
Although the championship was played with curved sticks and a puck, the game still carried more resemblance to bandy. Teams played 2 x 15 minutes, the ice conditions were poor due to the mild weather and half of the ice was markedly wider than the other. Helpers built snowdrifts instead of using sideboards to form the shape of the playing surface.
But all those things were of marginal importance. The first hockey tournament was played and this was the start of what would develop into one of the most long-lasting championship traditions in team sports. The LIHG European Championship eventually evolved into the World Championship that started in 1930, but already in 1920 ice hockey became part of the Olympic games.
Since Les Avants only the two world wars interrupted the series of 71 World Championships, 21 Olympic ice hockey tournaments and 13 European Championships (the last separate European Championship was played in 1932.)
As the hockey world turns its eyes to Quebec City and Halifax for the 72nd IIHF World Championship, we should all send thankful thoughts to the pioneers of Les Avants some 97 years ago. Although they never could have imagined what their initiative would eventually bring, they were definitely visionaries.
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.