Story #89

Finally, there's a real final game, The IIHF adopts a playoff system

ALGHERO, Italy — September 5-7, 1990


A series of developments led to the IIHF's decision to change to a playing format whereby a champion is determined through a one-on-one final instead of the long-standing--and often anti-climactic-- round-robin.

At the 1987 World Championship, the defending champion Soviet Union came to Vienna and didn't lose a single game, yet the team still left the city with only a silver medal. Sweden won gold on better goal difference, a difference they achieved on the final day when it beat a demoralized Canada by a whopping 9-0 score. The romp gave Sweden the gold, and the Soviets could only witness the thrashing from the stands.

One year later, at the Olympics in Calgary, the gold medal was decided prior to the last round. As a result, the final games that everybody had been looking forward to meant little. There was a repeat of the Calgary scenario the very next year, at the 1989 World Championship in Stockholm, where fans had to wait two days for the tournament-ending games while the gold medal had already been won by the Soviets. All too often it seemed the gold medal was decided before the end of the tournament, reducing the final games to a painful wait rather than a dramatic pinnacle.

Neither fans nor broadcasters were happy. A format change, both for the Olympics and the World Championships, had to be made. Ice hockey was the only major team sport that didn't determine its champions with a direct confrontation.

It was at the 1990 IIHF semi-annual Congress in Alghero, Italy, that the long overdue decision was made to introduce a playoff format, and the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France was the first IIHF event in modern times where this was implemented. As the playoff format allowed no ties in the final stages of the tournament, and wins, not goal differential would decide gold, the tournament immediately became more exciting.

The Canada vs. Germany quarter-final was the first game that went to overtime and a shootout under the new rules. And what a thriller it was! Germany's Ernst Köpf sent the game into OT with a late goal to give his team a 3-3 tie, and the 20-minute extra period failed to produce a winner. Jason Woolley and Wally Schreiber scored to give Canada a two-goal lead in the best-of-five shootout, but Michael Rumrich and Andreas Brockmann made it even and send the game into a sudden-death shootout. Eric Lindros scored on the first attempt of the second round for Canada, while Peter Draisaitl's next shot trickled off goalie Sean Burke but stopped short of the goal line. Canada had prevailed, but just barely. Five days later, the Canadians lost the gold medal game to the Unified Team 3-1 in the first ever true Olympic hockey showdown, a one-game, winner-take-all, gold medal game.

But the real winner was international hockey and its fans who finally were rewarded with a format where the final game would always be the decider.

 

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.

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