April 24, 1981 – Gothenburg, Sweden
The loss to the American collegians coached by Herb Brooks at the Olympics in Lake Placid in February 1980 was a disaster for Soviet ice hockey and for head coach Viktor Tikhonov. To lose a gold medal is one thing, but to lose the most prestigious prize in sports to ideological rival USA, represented by a group of unknown students, was unforgivable.
Coach Tikhonov was determined that a humiliation like that would never happen again. As there was no World Championship in the 1980 Olympic year, the Soviet team had to wait until the 1981 World Championship in Sweden to avenge the Lake Placid debacle. But already during the European Cup in Innsbruck in August 1980, the Tikhonov-led CSKA Moscow showed that they meant business. In the four-team club championship CSKA destroyed the champions of Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and Finland by an aggregate score of 26-2.
But it was the 1981 World Championship that was the bigger goal. The Soviets trashed Finland 7-1, Canada 8-2, Sweden 4-1, and Czechoslovakia 8-3 before the potentially deciding game of the double round robin against Sweden came up on April 24. Those were the days when the championships were decided only by final standings, so if the USSR won this one, the last game against Czechoslovakia would be irrelevant.
The Scandinavium arena in Gothenburg was filled to capacity (13.000) as the home crowed sensed an upset. A win for Tre Kronor could mean the first World Championship gold since 1962. Sweden’s coach, Bengt Olsson, said prior to the game that his team would have a chance if his Swedes didn’t allow an early goal. Things went according to plan. The game was scoreless after the first period. Now, if only Sweden could get the first goal and make the Soviets nervous…They didn’t. Viktor Shalimov got the first one at 1:44 of the second period. Vladimir Krutov scored the second less then two minutes later. Skvortsov, Maltsev, Shepelev and Golikov completed the scoring in the middle 20 minutes,a nd the score was 6-0. Game over.
But this was the year of the “rub-in”. Tikhonov was determined that the name “Lake Placid” would not be uttered anymore. When Thomas Steen finally got Sweden on board in the 13th minute of the last period, the scoreboard read 11-1. Skvortsov and Kapustin managed two more late goals to complete the most lopsided score ever in an all-decisive international championship game. Soviet Union 13, Sweden 1. In Sweden. Mission accomplished. Despite the destruction, Sweden got the silver medal and goaltender Peter Lindmark was selected to the all-star team and named best goaltender of the tournament.
Including this championship, the Soviets went on a four-year unbeaten streak that included 28 games, three World Championship gold medals and the 1984 Olympic gold medal in Sarajevo. Tikhonov and his Soviets could never undo history or change the result from Lake Placid, but at least they could try to minimize the historic relevance of that humiliation.
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.