SAPPORO, Japan — February 12, 1972
It was the participation of the USA and Canada in 1920 at the Antwerp Summer Olympics that put hockey on the international map. In the years that followed, the two North American powers waged many a great battle for Olympic or World Championship gold, proving themselves vastly superior to their European competitors. The Americans won the gold in 1933 in Prague but didn't win again until 1960 when they beat the Canadians, Soviets, and Czechoslovakians within days, claiming their first Olympic title.
But Squaw Valley was not a beginning of more great things to come; instead, it proved to be a flash of lightening that vanished as quickly as it had arrived. While many European hockey countries developed impressive national team programs in the 1960s, the Americans had tremendous difficulty developing good players for the NHL, and their performance at the World Championships was mediocre at best.
As the 1970s arrived, ten of 12 NHL teams were based in the USA, but the number of American-born NHL players could be counted, literally, on one hand. Due to the lack of talent, the national team program suffered. The inevitable happened at the 1971 World Championship in Switzerland -- Team USA finished last of six teams and was relegated to B Pool of the World Championship for 1972, among countries like Poland, Yugoslavia, East Germany and Romania.
Indeed, the Americans finished behind West Germany and had to compete against Switzerland to even qualify for the Olympics in February '72 in Sapporo, Japan. They made the grade, though, and went on to win a silver medal, thanks in large part to a sensational 5-1 victory over Czechoslovakia. The two nations tied for second, but this win gave the USA superior placing, and with the medal earned the team a place in IIHF hockey history. The 1972 Team USA is the only B Pool squad ever to win an Olympic medal. Incredibly, they didn't return to the A Pool of the World Championship until 1975.
They were eventually called 'the forgotten team' as the American viewers missed the medal ceremony because NBC ended its daily Olympic coverage a few minutes before the event took place.
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.