By adapting stricter rule enforcement, obstruction penalties like here by Germany’s Wayne Hynes against Czech player Michal Bros were reduced and the game made faster as of the 2006 Olympics.
Rules and regulations are not the sexy part of hockey, but what happens in the boardroom, at Congress, and in various IIHF committee meetings goes a long way to determining the quality of the game on ice. As trends emerge and eras evolve, changes are necessary, and over the decades these have formed the basis of the game we have today.
The IIHF allows bodychecking in all three zones
It’s almost impossible to understand the rule, but it was there. Until 1969, it was illegal to bodycheck in the offensive end of the ice. This sounds crazy today, but the rule was intended to ensure the safety of defencemen skating back into their own zone to chase down loose pucks. Over time, however, it became clear that hockey was a game designed for equal rules all over the ice. As a result, the IIHF’s summer Congress of 1969 provided one of the most substantial and dramatic rule changes in the history of international hockey when it voted to allow checking everywhere. For North American players, it meant no more having to adjust to a major rule when playing overseas, and for Europeans it was a first and huge step to learning how to play the North American game. Without this rule in place, there is little doubt that Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom could never have even attempted to play in the NHL. Hockey was never the same again – it was better.
Anti-Doping controls introduced
Another rule instituted in 1969 came not from the development of the game on ice but the change in sports off the playing field. Sophisticated new drugs had been developed to aid athletic performance, from strength to stamina to speed and skill, and the IIHF kept pace with the cheaters by introducing doping protocols aimed at keeping drugs out of hockey. Although it has been very successful, the cheats have still tried to cheat over the years, and several famous incidents are unfortunately part of the doping control history. Nevertheless, as the drugs have become more sophisticated, so, too, has the testing, and a vital part of the IIHF’s mandate continues to be fair play and the safety of players.
Two-line passes are now allowed, forever changing the game
It took years of discussion and debate, but finally, on 31 May 1998, the IIHF decided to allow the two-line pass. The long pass was a way to eliminate the stifling defensive play of some teams that clogged the middle of the ice to prevent flow and offence. Now, a player could pass the puck from behind his own goal all the way to the other team’s blue line. Just a couple of weeks prior to the decision, Sweden and Finland had played a best-of-two World Championship final that was perhaps the low point in the tournament’s long and distinguished history. One goal was scored in the two games, by a defenceman, on a shot from the blue line. The new rule immediately changed the game for the better, and much of the talk at the 2002 Olympics was Sweden’s use of the “torpedo” pass. In 2005, the NHL followed suit, unifying passing rules across the globe.
The IIHF implements a world ranking system
It began pretty much as an idea-on-a-napkin, but in 2003 the IIHF introduced a ranking system for its senior tournaments that would have major consequences for its top events. For years if not decades most sports ranked its teams and athletes, but the IIHF had held fast to old ways for determining order and qualifying for the Olympics and World Championships. In 2003, that changed when Szymon Szemberg, the IIHF’s director of communications, used the Olympic cycle and results from its World Championship to seed teams and give them an annual ranking based on accumulated points at these two competitions during the previous four years. It brought order and merit to the IIHF schedule and created a meaningful system of tournament results, changing forever how teams qualified and were ranked for events.
IIHF cracks down on obstruction, opening up the game
For all the IIHF was trying to do to open up the game, it was forever hampered by coaches and tactics designed to slow the game down. The simple fact is that the more speed in hockey, the greater the disparity in skill. The slower the game, the greater the parity between teams. By 2005, though, the game had been dragged down to the levels where hooking, holding, and obstructing play had slowed the game to a crawl. The IIHF had for some years established new guidelines in the IIHF Rule Emphasis Bulletin, which called for a stringent observance of obstruction. In November 2005, IIHF president René Fasel released this statement: “It is our goal to call the games in Turin 2006 according to 2005/2006 IIHF Rule Emphasis Bulletin. The document calls for attention on strict rule enforcement, focusing on hooking, holding, and interference infractions. The basic objective of the rule enforcement can be summed up with these lines: “Players who use their skill and/or anticipation and have gained a positional advantage on an opponent shall not lose that advantage through illegal use of hands, arms, or stick by the defending player. If a player is deprived of that advantage through an illegal act, the appropriate penalty shall be called.” The Turin Olympics in February 2006 was the first major championship played to a worldwide audience under the crackdown, and it is remembered still as one of the best international hockey tournaments ever played.
Three-point system introduced
At the end of the 2006 World Championship, the IIHF’s Annual Congress produced a major changed in the structure of tournament formats forever. Tie games were eliminated, and a new three-point system was instituted. From now on, the regulation-time winner would receive three points in the standings; the overtime or shootout winner would earn two points; and, the OT/SO loser would get one point. The first tournament to use the new system was the 2007 World Junior Championship in Sweden, and it didn’t take long for the new format to be tested. The first game featured Germany and the United States, and sure enough the game went to overtime. When Marcel Muller scored for the Germans, he earned his country two points in the standings, and for the first time in IIHF history an OT loss gave the Americans one point. A new era was off and running.
The IIHF implements a two-referee system
As the IIHF implemented rules to open the game and cracked down on other rules to maintain the speed of the game, everything about 21st century hockey was becoming too fast for one referee to follow. If a referee got caught behind the play, he couldn’t make calls for action up ahead, and if he anticipated play quickly, he couldn’t call infractions well behind him. He needed help, and the IIHF provided that in the form of implementing the two-referee system. By having to cover only half the ice, each referee, working in tandem with his colleague, could focus on one area of play while not worrying about missing something going on elsewhere. The new system was implemented for the top men’s events, and in 2014 the women also adopted the system using four officials. Finally, after years of playing catch up, the referees were now able to call play as they saw it, from in close and in time.
The IIHF adopts unlimited overtime, 3-on-3 hockey
On 6 December 2018, the IIHF made one of its most radical changes to game structure when it decided that the gold medal game of the World Championship would be played to the finish. Unlimited overtime. NO penalty-shot shootout to rescue a tired or overwhelmed team, no settling the gold except by a golden goal. The decision was greeted with applause in North America, which had long been familiar with the concept through the Stanley Cup playoffs, but in Europe the tradition of shootouts had been so entrenched that that concept had been easily accepted years earlier. But critics who argued that settling a hockey game through penalty shots was unjust were now enthralled by the prospect of a second or even third overtime period! It has yet to happen, but one day it no doubt will. And when it does, more IIHF history will have been made. The rule was implemented for the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and in May 2019 Congress formally adopted it for all top-level gold medal games.
During the 100-year anniversary of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship we bring you the top-100 moments in stories, photos and videos in 10 days. Check out more by clicking the chapters below: