Larger than the sport
by|28 MAR 2017
Jiri Holik (centre) grabs his head in disbelief after Czechoslovakia defeated the Soviet Union also in the second game of the 1969 World Championship.
photo: Rolle Rygin
These two games Czechoslovakia simply could not lose.

March 21 & 28, 1969 — Stockholm, Sweden

There is absolutely no doubt that the most emotionally charged games in the history of international hockey were the two between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union in the 1969 IIHF World Championship in Stockholm. These were two games which the Czechoslovaks simply could not lose.

“We said to ourselves, even if we have to die on the ice, we have to beat them,” said team captain Jozef Golonka in an interview many years later.

“We received hundreds of telegrams from fans back home when we arrived in Stockholm. Almost all of them said: ‘Beat the Soviets. You don’t have to beat anyone else. Just beat the Soviets.’”

Canadian goaltender and future Hall of Famer Ken Dryden made his first international appearance in that championship:

“Even though this was my first and only World Championships, the only thing I or anyone else remembers about them were the Soviet-Czechoslovakian games. They were fantastic.”

The 1969 tournament was originally allocated to Czechoslovakia, but the country declined to organize the event following the Soviet led Warsaw-Pact invasion of the country in August 1968. It was of course the occupation that put its mark on and totally overshadowed the two Czechoslovakia vs Soviet Union clashes at the Johanneshov ice stadium in Stockholm on March 21 and 28.

The Soviets came in having won the last six World Championships and three out of the last four Olympics and they were the better team. But there was no way the Czechoslovaks could lose to the Soviet team, who by opponents were viewed upon as representing an occupying power.

The Soviet players just wanted to play hockey, but they were reminded in every shift by the vocal Czechoslovaks that this wasn’t to be about sports.

Playing with unprecedented national fervour, Team CSSR outhustled the Soviets 2-0 on March 21 and 4-3 one week later in the return game.

In the footage from game one, after defenceman Jan Suchy had given CSSR a 1-0-lead, one can see how Jaroslav Holik taunts Soviet goaltender Viktor Zinger after the goal, poking his stick repeatedly at Zinger’s face, calling him a “bloody communist”.

Holik even put hockey tape over the Czechoslovak crest on his jersey, covering the star that symbolized the country’s allegiance to the Warsaw Pact.

It was the first time since 1961 that the Soviet Union lost two games in one championship and it was the first time ever that the USSR lost two games against the same opponent in one IIHF event.

Amazingly, Czechoslovakia did not win gold, not even silver medals. After each of the draining encounters with the Soviet Union, the Czechoslovaks could not generate the same sentiments against Sweden.

They lost both games against the home team, 2-0 and 1-0, and could only get bronze medals due to lesser goal differential. But in a larger context, their mission was accomplished.

We look forward to welcoming the Czech and Slovak heroes to the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Denmark!

You can find the Top-100 Stories of the Century here.