Ice Hockey debuts at the Olympics
April 23, 1920 — Antwerp, Belgium
Since the creation of the IIHF in 1908, international hockey within Europe had seen a dramatic rise in popularity and occurrence. The Canadian-style game was quickly replacing bandy in many countries, and games between club teams and national teams in various countries started to become a common occurrence. It wasn’t until 1920, though, that the first truly international hockey tournament was played. That year hockey was part of the Summer Olympics in Antwerp (there was no such even called the Winter Olympics yet), and there were seven teams entered - two from overseas (Canada and USA) and five from Europe (Belgium, France, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, and Sweden).
There were many elements of that first tournament which, all these years later, seem primitive, but it was an historic start nonetheless. Teams played seven men a side and games consisted of two 20-minute periods. Canadian rules and interpretations were used thanks to the reputation of William Hewitt, Canada’s team manager, whose knowledge of the game was so superior to anyone else’s. The rink’s dimensions were tiny by anyone’s idea of a regulation rink—58 feet wide and 165 feet long (18x50 metres), and games were played outdoors on uneven and inconsistent patches of natural ice.
Sweden’s team was comprised of bandy players who were playing with a puck for the first time. Although they learned by leaps and bounds, they were no match for the North Americans. The Czechoslovaks, too, were unfamiliar with the finer points of the game, but they were also poor skaters and lacked even a fundamental grasp of the strategy of hockey. The other European nations were similarly ill-prepared for the event. They were game and enthusiastic but not particularly impressive.
The games were played under a strange and controversial format called the Bergvall system. All teams played for the gold medal, and those teams that lost games to the winning team — Canada — then played for silver. The teams that lost to that team — USA — then played for bronze. As expected, Canada won gold with easy wins over the Czechoslovaks (15-0) and Sweden (12-1) and a close win over the Americans, 2-0. The Americans won silver easily after beating Sweden 7-0 and Czechoslovakia 16-0, and the Czechoslovaks beat the Swedes 1-0 for bronze.
The sport of hockey proved a huge success, and Canada’s display of skill so impressed the fans and organizers that it was clear this would not be the last such event. Indeed, the IOC eventually created a separate Olympics for winter sports, so that in 1924, a more organized and efficient tournament could be presented. Hockey was now an international sport taking roots in most countries in Europe, paving the way for greater and greater expansion and development of the IIHF.
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.