Strange but true

Olympic years are full of Worlds surprises

16.05.2014
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Lanxess Arena Cologne  Germany

Jaromir Jagr (#68) hoists the championship trophy after the Czechs gold-medal game win at the 2010 IIHF World Championship. Photo: Mika Kylmaniemi / HHOF-IIHF Images

Unpredictability. That’s what makes an IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in an Olympic year special.

There’s always fallout from the Winter Games to deal with, interesting roster choices, and more.

Let’s take a quick look back at some of the strange incidents and trends that occurred at Olympic-year Worlds over the last 20 years.

1994: Finland Goes Great Guns – But Loses

Finnish national teams are renowned for their excellent goaltending and commitment to team defence. With due respect to the scoring feats of Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, they are not known for massive offensive outbursts. But when the Finns marched to the 1994 IIHF World Championship final in Bolzano, they scored at an obscene rate.

In every game through the semi-finals, coach Curt Lindstrom’s squad notched four or more goals. After leading the tournament with 29 goals through the round-robin stage, Suomi trounced Austria 10-0 in the quarter-finals and hammered the Americans 8-0 in the semi-finals.

Unfortunately, this prodigious pace of production proved unsustainable in the final against Canada, where Luc Robitaille’s shootout goal gave the motherland of hockey a 2-1 victory for its first gold medal in 33 years. Koivu, Jari Kurri, and Timo Jutila cracked the all-star team, but that was scant consolation.

1998: The Two-Game, One-Goal Final

Winning a World Championship wasn’t anything unusual for Sweden in the 1990s. It happened three times: 1991, 1992, and 1998. But the ‘98 final marked a strange deviation: it was a best-of-two series decided by total goals.

Tre Kronor was coached by Peter Forsberg’s father, Kent, and it didn’t even matter that both “Foppa” and fellow superstar Mats Sundin were both held goalless in the last two games against Finland in Zurich, Switzerland. Vasteras blueliner Johan Tornberg potted the 1-0 winner in the opener, and the Swedes claimed gold on the strength of a 0-0 draw in the second game. It wasn’t particularly entertaining, which is why this format hasn’t been revisited in years since.

2002: Slovaks Go Far – Without All Their Stars

In the popular memory, Slovakia won its first (and thus far only) IIHF World Championship gold medal with an absolutely stacked roster of NHL stars.

But do you remember the goals Marian Gaborik, Pavol Demitra, and Marian Hossa scored in that run in Gothenburg, Sweden? How about the defensive heroics of Zdeno Chara? Or the contributions of second-tier stars like Robert Svehla and Richard Zednik?

If none of this rings a bell, there’s a good reason: none of those players were there.

Certainly, there was some star power. Peter Bondra, who scored the late winner in the final versus Russia’s Maxim Sokolov, was named to the all-star team, as was captain Miroslav Satan, who potted 13 points (his best-ever Worlds outing). Defenceman Richard Lintner, who would play for Dynamo Minsk in future years, received the same honour with his eight-point outing.

But the 2002 champions should be remembered most for a superb team effort, not for overcoming opponents with individual brilliance.

2006: Heading in Opposite Directions

Mika Hannula is certainly not as well-known as Sidney Crosby. But as of 2006, you could argue that Hannula was more successful on the team level.

The energetic Huddinge-born forward, who then played for Jonkoping’s HV71, was part of the two Swedish teams that made history by winning Olympic and World Championship gold in the same year. Crosby could only point to his 2005 World Junior gold medal from the year before.

But after Hannula laid a vicious cross-check on Crosby while the 18-year-old tournament scoring champ was celebrating a goal in Sweden’s 5-4 semi-final win over Canada, the two men’s careers would follow very different trajectories.

Crosby went on to capture two Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014), two NHL scoring titles (2007, 2014), and a Stanley Cup (2009). The Pittsburgh Penguins superstar was named the NHL MVP in 2007, and is a strong candidate to win the Hart Trophy again this year. He also took the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal-scorer (51) in 2010.

Conversely, Hannula was suspended for the final 4-0 win over the Czechs in Riga, Latvia. He would never play for Tre Kronor at an IIHF tournament again, although he did suit up a few times on the Euro Hockey Tour. At 35, Hannula has played for 10 different clubs since the Crosby incident. Most recently, he recorded a goal and four assists in 17 playoff games for the DEL’s Kolner Haie (Cologne Sharks).

2010: Few Big Names, But Big Success

Heading into the World Championship in Germany, the Czech Republic hadn’t won a world title since the NHL lockout year of 2005, and that drought wasn’t expected to end on May 23 in Cologne. The Czechs brought a less-than-stacked roster, featuring just four NHLers, and superstar Jaromir Jagr, who was competing in his seventh Worlds, wasn’t happy about it. He vented his frustration near the start of the tournament.

“It’s the national team,” said Jagr, then 38 and playing for the KHL’s Avangard Omsk. “We didn’t really have any success lately, and a lot of guys said no in our country. Probably the top 25 guys said no, and I think it’s too much. I understand the guys are injured or they feel tired after the season, but look at guys like [Alexander] Ovechkin or [Ilya] Kovalchuk.”

Indeed, Russia was favoured to prevail, boasting a roster with 14 Olympians. They’d vowed to seek redemption after their humiliating 7-3 loss to host Canada in the quarter-finals in Vancouver.

But the Czechs persevered, despite surprising 3-2 losses to Norway and Switzerland in the group stage. You could tell there was something special going on when they earned consecutive shootout wins over Finland and Sweden in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively on Jan Marek goals. And they simply outsmarted Russia in the final, winning 2-1.

The Czechs didn’t have a single player that received all-star team honours or a Directorate Award, but they didn’t care: they had the gold.

LUCAS AYKROYD

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