March 7, 1954 – Stockholm, Sweden
There is no question that 1954 was the start of the modern era of international hockey. Prior to the World Championship in Stockholm, Sweden, that year, Canada ruled the ice lanes uncontested. Indeed, from 1920 to 1954, it lost only two significant games, one to the United States at the 1933 World Championship and one to Great Britain at the 1936 Olympics.
But in 1954, the Soviet Union made its first appearance in international hockey, and it did so in a blaze of glory. The Soviets had only started playing “Canadian hockey” (as opposed to European bandy) in 1946, and just eight years later that nation’s top players and managers believed they were ready to play against the world – and win.
The 1954 team featured Nikolai Puchkov in goal as well as Evgeni Babich, Vsevolod Bobrov, Valentin Kuzin, and Nikolai Khlystov. In their first game of the ’54 World Championship, they beat Finland with ease, 7-1. They shut out Norway, 7-0, and beat West Germany, 6-2. It wasn’t until they played Czechoslovakia that they met a real challenge, but the Soviets responded with a convincing 5-2 victory. After beating Switzerland, 4-2, they encountered their only major challenge to date and had to settle for a 1-1 tie with the host nation, Sweden.
While the Soviets were going through the tournament in spectacular fashion, however, Canada was doing even better. It won all six of its games by an aggregate score of 57-5, and this domination led to the all-important Canada-Soviet Union showdown of March 7, the final day of the tournament. Canada needed only a tie to claim gold while the Soviets had to win outright if they were to take home gold. In the end, it was no contest.
Canada was represented, as always, by a club team, and in 1954 that was the East York Lyndhursts, coached by Greg Currie and featuring Don Lockhart in goal as well as Moe Galland and Vic Sluce. The Soviet team consisted of the best 17 players in the country, and although this was their first international tournament, they were overpowering. They jumped into the early lead, poured it on in the second period, and shut down any Canadian hopes for a comeback in the third. The result was a shocking 7-2 win and a gold medal in their first try.
This was not only an improbable and impressive victory, though. It hailed the start of hockey’s first great rivalry. Out of Canada-Soviet Union came heightened interest in the game. Other countries started to develop a serious program for the sport, and Canada rose to the challenge by sending better and better teams to compete against their adversary. As a result, the Soviet victory in 1954 was the start of a new era in international hockey.
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.
Click here for the 100 Top Stories