The IIHF Life Member, who served on the IIHF Council from 1986 to 2008 and was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame as a Builder in 2007, travelled on his 90th birthday with his wife from his hometown of Graz, Austria to the Slovak capital of Bratislava to celebrate in the evening with his hockey family. IIHF President René Fasel, General Secretary Horst Lichtner, and several current and former Council members welcomed him to Bratislava.
He thanked everybody for the nice welcome and said about his big milestone birthday with a smile: “I feel very well, I’m healthy and the brain still works 100 per cent.”
The celebration happened at Konditorei Kormuth, a historical patisserie with old artefacts and dishes reminiscent of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Of course, a cake bearing his name and the number 90 was a must for this occasion.
Later he studied civil engineering, but then he continued his father’s work in an insurance company after his father’s passing while still staying involved in ice hockey. First, he led the ice hockey section of his club in Graz before becoming Vice President of the Austrian Ice Hockey Association in 1962. Dobida served as its President from 1977 to 1996.
In 1986 he joined the IIHF Council. “I was elected the same year as René Fasel and Walter Bush,” he recalled. “And years later René Fasel suggested me as treasurer. This was a true sign of confidence.”
His hockey life has often brought him across the border to Bratislava, most recently for the last IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in the city back in 2011, and also for the 2017 IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship where he chaired the directorate. And earlier, during a Continental Cup tournament, he remembered how he went to the Austrian embassy with the entire Austrian team, as it was voting weekend back home.
For him World Championships have always been highlights, whether with the Austrian national team, as an organizer or later with the IIHF, with which he’s chaired countless tournament directorates within the World Championship program and the Continental Cup, something he has continued after his Council retirement age.
He was involved firsthand in four World Championships in Vienna: as an organizer in 1967 and 1977 and as organizing committee chairman in 1987 and 1996. He was also part of the organizing committee for the 1964 and 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck.
In terms of events outside Austria, he enthuses about the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer with the great family atmosphere and winter conditions. He also remembers the 1983 World Championship B-Pool in Tokyo.
“It was very special because the rink was set up in a swimming hall, and it sounded special when the players were skating,” Dobida said. “The Ski World Cup was taking place in Japan at the same time and the skiers came to the first game to cheer on us.”
And then there was a special challenge. The United States played at that tournament as the big favourite and were promoted. Bill Gilligan, who played in the Austrian league, was among the players, and Lou Vairo was the head coach. Vairo came to Dobida with an unusual wish to have in Japan: he wanted topfenstrudel, an Austrian curd pastry. Fortunately, there was an Austrian chef at the Hilton Hotel who made Vairo’s dream of Austrian delicacies in Japan possible.
Dobida also fondly remembers the 1977 Worlds in Vienna. It was special because Canada returned after a seven-year absence due to a dispute about the amateur status of players. The Phil Esposito-captained Canadians finished in fourth place, while Czechoslovakia won gold not far from home.
Now it’s the other way around, as the Austrians are playing not far from home in the Slovak capital of Bratislava, with Dobida as a guest. It’s easy to guess what he’s looking forward to the most.
“I’m looking mostly forward to the games. I don’t see any clear favourite here, it’s very open. And as an Austrian I hope that Austria, just like in Copenhagen, will manage to stay in the top division,” he said.
“They’ve made a good impression. I think they have the best possible team they could have here.”