March 11, 1950 – Prague, Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia was the best national team in the world in the years following World War II. The team won the 1947 and 1949 World Championships and lost the 1948 Olympic gold to Canada only on goal differential.
But it was their own people, driven by conspiracy theories in Stalinist Czechoslovakia, who prevented this great team from defending its title at the 1950 World Championship in London, England. Just before the national squad was about to board the plane for Great Britain on March 11, 1950, the players were handcuffed by the national state security police (KNB, Czechoslovakian forerunner to the KGB) and taken to jail.
Seven months later, on October 7, the players appeared in court accused of attempting to defect and they were charged with treason. The security police presented “intelligence information” about plans to defect in Great Britain during the World Championship. The main argument was the information that in December 1948, the players of LTC Praha (most of whom played for the national team) had discussed the option of defecting in Switzerland after the annual Spengler Cup tournament in Davos.
Yes, there had been earlier defections by Czechoslovakian hockey players to the west, but none of the accused players had ever seriously considered taking this step, although they had their chances. They could have stayed in Sweden after the 1949 World Championship or in Vienna where they prepared for the 1950 event in London. The players, of course, pleaded not guilty.
Needless to say, their fate was pre-determined by authorities who ruled the totalitarian regime, and twelve were sent to jail. The players were labeled “state traitors”.
Goaltender Bohumil Modry was sentenced to 15 years in prison; forward Gustav Bubnik to 14 years; forward Stanislav Konopasek got 12; Vaclav Rozinak and Vladimir Kobranov each got 10 years; and, Josef Jirka got six years. Six other players were given sentences ranging from eight months to three years; Mojmir Ujcik, Zlatko Cerveny, Jiri Macelis, Premysl Hajny, Antonin Spaninger and Josef Stock.
Modry, the best goaltender in Europe of that era, died in 1963, at the age of 47, from prison related complications. Most of the players were released after five years, but their lives and families were shattered. So was a great hockey team. Czechoslovakia would have to wait 23 years, until 1972, before they won another World Championship.
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.