May 14, 2000 – St. Petersburg, Russia
Proving that breakups of countries don’t have to result in bloodshed, Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on January 1, 1993, an event sometimes called the Velvet Divorce. In terms of ice hockey, the dissolution of Czechoslovakia meant that the Czech Ice Hockey Association took over the position of former Czechoslovakia while Slovakia was considered a “new” hockey nation. As a result, the Slovaks had to start from scratch in the IIHF World Championship program and work their way up through the divisions.
They started at the very bottom in 1994 – Pool C – and gained immediate promotion to Pool B after winning that level easily. They also finished on top of the secondary level in 1995 and earned the next promotion, this time to the elite Pool A, in 1996, in Vienna, Austria. But the steady improvement of the new national team program didn’t stop there. The Slovaks – with players such as Zdeno Ciger, Pavol Demitra, Zigmund Palffy, and Miroslav Satan – finished 10th in 1996, 9th in 1997, 7th in 1998, and 7th again in 1999 leading to the 2000 World Championship in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The Slovaks finished fourth in the qualifying round which pitted them in the cross-over quarter-final against a strong Team USA, the surprise winner of the other group. Slovakia defeated the Americans 4-1 and followed this up with a stunning 3-1-win over Finland in the semis. Incredibly, after only six years as an independent nation, Slovakia was in the World Championship final – against the Czech Republic!
More important, the meeting of these two independent nations in 2000 proved the strength of the old Czechoslovak hockey program which had produced two, world-class national teams, despite their relative smallness to other hockey powers. Slovakia’s population was only five million, and the Czech Republic ten million.
Everybody who was present at the St. Petersburg Ice Palace on May 14, 2000, felt the history and emotion of the moment when the two teams took the ice for the gold medal game. The final itself was somewhat of an anti-climax. The Czechs, with a much more solid team approach to strategy, jumped to a 3-0-lead in the first period, had a 4-1 lead at the start of the third, and settled for a 5-3-victory, their third gold in as many years (including the 1998 Olympics in Nagano).
But the result was of secondary importance. The Czechs and Slovaks proved – both as nations and as hockey programs – that political and geographic separation have to be neither painful nor bloody to be successful, and by maintaining a civilized manner, both continued to prosper and develop world-class players.
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.