IIHF Top 100 WM Stories – Part VII
by Andrew Podnieks|13 MAY 2020
IIHF President René Fasel, accompanied by Vladislav Tretiak, in front of one of the Lokomotiv player’s casket in the memorial service in Yaroslavl after the air plane crash in 2011.
photo: Nadezhda Cherepakhina / KHL
The unexpected is a part of life, and it is so in hockey as well. These unexpected events came in the form of tragedy and surprise, shock and horror. They represent eras and governments, geographies and decades that have all contributed to the long and complex history of the IIHF.

Generation lost as Czechoslovak team is jailed for treason

Czechoslovakia won the 1947 and 1949 World Championships and lost the 1948 Olympic gold to Canada only on goal difference. These results helped establish the nation as the clearly superior team in Europe, but it was their own government that proved to be the players’ greatest nemesis around this time. On 11 March 1950, just before the national squad was about to board a plane for Great Britain to defend its World Championship title in London, the players were handcuffed by the national state security police and taken to jail. Seven months later, on 7 October, the players appeared in court on charges of treason. The security police presented “intelligence information” about plans by the players to defect in London. The players pleaded not guilty, but their fate was pre-determined by authorities. Some 12 members of the national team were sent to jail, many for several years. Most were released after five years, but their lives and families were shattered. See this article about IIHF Hall of Fame member Bohumil Modry with research from his daughter. Shattered was also a great hockey team. Czechoslovakia would have to wait 23 years, until 1972, before it won another World Championship gold medal.
The 1947 Czechoslovak world champion team. Three years later, the players were "state traitors".
photo: IIHF Archive

Protesting amateur rules, Canada leaves international hockey

Canada was selected to host the 1970 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. Winnipeg and Montreal were named the host cities, but these plans changed during the IIHF’s Congress in March 1969 in Stockholm. Canada wanted a serious discussion about defining amateur and professional, and the discussion continued at the semi-annual Congress in the summer in Switzerland. It was decided at the time that Canada could use nine semi-pros in competition for the coming year, as a trial, but things changed again in December after Canada finished an impressive second at the Izvestia tournament using only five semi-pros. At another meeting in January, the IIHF reversed its decision and decreed Canada could use only amateur players. On 4 January 1970, Canada responded by withdrawing from all international hockey. It did not play at the next seven World Championships or two Olympics, but by the time it did return, in 1977, it was permitted to use any player from any league it so wished. It was the darkest period in IIHF history, but out of the abyss came new light and a greater level of international hockey.

Soviet legend and star goaltender Vladislav Tretiak retires at age 32

After winning gold with the Soviet Union at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, goaltender Vladislav Tretiak could count three Olympic gold, one Olympic silver, 10 World Championship gold, and two more silver and a bronze at the Worlds. He had done it all many times over. He had also been drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1983, and made no secret at home that he wanted to be allowed to play in the NHL. Soviet authorities refused, and Tretiak retired. He could not force the authorities to release him, but on the other hand the authorities could not force him to play. His last game came at a small tournament called the Sweden Cup. He played on 12 April 1984, in a 7-2 loss to the Czechs after having secured first place. At the end of that game, he skated off the ice, and never played again.
Vladislav Tretiak's last interview as an active player in Gothenburg, Sweden. Four days later, on 12 April 1984, he played his last game.
photo: Bengt Kjellin

Vezina trophy winner Pelle Linderbergh dies in a car crash

10 November 1985 was a dark day in the annals of hockey. In the early hours of that Sunday, Swedish goaltender Pelle Lindbergh crashed his car into a wall, a crash that was precipitated by alcohol. He died on the spot, at age 26, just a few months after having won the Vezina Trophy with Philadelphia as the best goalie in the NHL. He was the first European to win one of the game’s most coveted trophies.  Lindbergh had spent years establishing himself as one of the best goalies in the world, playing at the 1979 and 1983 World Championships, the 1980 Olympics, and 1981 Canada Cup. He styled his play after Bernie Parent and finally established himself as the team’s number-one goaltender in 1984, taking the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals the next spring against Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers. Lindbergh and teammates were out on the town during a bit of a break during an otherwise hectic schedule near the start of the 1985/86 season, but after leaving a nightclub after drinking he got into his Porsche and tried to drive home. Four days later, when the Flyers played their first game after the tragedy, it was Bernie Parent who held the eulogy for Lindbergh at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.

West Germany's Miroslav Sikora's eligibility overturns preliminary round standings

The 1987 World Championship in Vienna was the most controversial and disrupted tournament in IIHF history. West Germany named 30-year old forward Miroslav Sikora to its team. Sikora was a native Pole and represented Poland in minor junior international competition. But when he came to the World Championship, he was a naturalized German citizen and eligible to play for his new country. Or, so the Germans thought. West Germany had a good start in the tournament, defeating Finland 3-1 in the third game. Sikora had a goal, but the Finns filed a protest after management produced documents which showed that Sikora had, in fact, represented Poland in the inaugural 1977 World Junior Championship in Czechoslovakia. The Finns demanded that their 3-1 loss be overturned because West Germany had used an ineligible player. When the IIHF Council sided with the Finns and revoked the two points from West Germany, the incensed Germans took the case to the district court of Vienna. In the meantime, no one was certain what were the real standings in the tournament – the one with West Germany getting their points from wins against Finland and also later against Canada, 5-3 (Sikora had one goal and one assist in that game) – or the one with the score reversed to 5-0 for Finland and Canada (the standard score of a forfeited game) as ruled by the IIHF.

In the end, the court overruled the IIHF Council. One week after the original Finnish protest – and only one day before the medal round was scheduled to begin – the IIHF had to adjust the standings according to the court’s decision. The West German team was allowed to keep its points from the wins with Sikora, but the player was also ruled ineligible and had to leave the tournament after four games.
Miroslav Sikora (left) became the main figure of the 1987 World Championship - without wanting any part of it.
photo: IIHF Archive

Igor Larionov revolts against Soviet system, head coach

Brave is the man who challenged authority in the Soviet Union, but Igor Larionov was no ordinary man. A superb hockey player, he was one of the brave ones, and he survived because of his hockey-playing abilities. Larionov used a magazine called Ogonyok to write a scathing editorial of coach Viktor Tikhonov, accusing him and the Soviet system of mistreating the players. The national team practised eleven months a year and players were required to stay at its training camp almost the entire year. “It’s a wonder our wives manage to give birth,” he famously wrote in the article. Defenceman Slava Fetisov sided with Larionov and left the team, but as the 1989 World Championship approached the Soviets promised the players they could leave for the NHL if they played one more tournament. They agreed, won gold without losing or tying a game, and did, indeed, journey to North America. “I published the letter to the coach to open society’s eyes to what really was being done in this system,” Larionov explained years later. “I wasn’t to do it for myself; I was doing it for the whole team.”

Despite having 14 NHL stars, Russia falls to 11th place on home ice

The 2000 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in St. Petersburg was supposed to have been special for Russia. It was the first time the Worlds had been to the country since 1984. It was the dawn of a new century, and the nation was hosting for the first time as an independent Russia. The team it assembled was nothing short of spectacular and included some 14 NHL players – Pavel Bure, Maxim Afinogenov, Alexei Yashin, Sergei Gonchar, Alexei Zhamnov, Alexei Zhitnik, Dmitri Mironov, Andrei Kovalenko and Valeri Kamenski. But after an 8-1 win over France on the opening day, things went south quickly. They lost to the U.S., 3-0, and then, for the first time ever, to Switzerland, 3-2. They lost to Latvia, 3-2, backed by inspired goaltending from Arturs Irbe. They lost again to Belarus, 1-0, and finished 11th of 16 teams. To this day it remains their worst finish in a men’s competition. Shocking doesn’t begin to explain what happened, and an historic hosting turned infamous for all the wrong reasons.
Coaches (second from left) Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, Alexander Yakushev, GM Alexei Kasatonov and the entire Russian team had to explain their failure to outraged media at the 2000 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in St. Petersburg.
photo: Jukka Rautio / Europhoto

Players, coaches from several countries perish in Lokomotiv Yaroslav plane crash

7 September 2011, was a day of hockey tragedy that affected lives all over the globe. On that day a plane carrying the entire team of the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crashed shortly after takeoff, leaving no survivors among the hockey team. The names of the dead include a who’s who of well-known players: Canadian Brad McCrimmon, the head coach, and his assistants Igor Korolev and Alexander Karpovtsev; players Pavol Demitra, Jan Marek, Karlis Skrastins, Josef Vasicek, Ruslan Salei and Stefan Liv among other international players. In all, 26 players lost their lives. A sombre Rene Fasel said: “This is a terrible tragedy for the global ice hockey community with so many nationalities involved. Our thoughts and prayers are with family and friends of the victims. Despite the substantial air travel of professional hockey teams, our sport has been spared from tragic traffic accidents. But only until now. This is the darkest day in the history of our sport. This is not only a Russian tragedy. The Lokomotiv roster included players and coaches from ten nations.”

Following semi-final incident, two coaches banned from medal games

Sweden and Russia have waged many a classic hockey battle on ice over the decades, but on 24 May 2014, things got more than a little out of hand. Russia won that semi-finals game, 3-1, to advance to the gold-medal game and relegate the Swedes to the bronze game, but towards the end Russian head coach Oleg Znarok and Swedish assistant coach Rickard Gronborg exchanged words – and actions. Znarok made a throat-cutting gesture towards Gronborg, and the IIHF disciplinary committee ruled that this constituted an obscene gesture and took the unprecedented action of suspending Znarok from the gold medal game. Gronborg was also suspended from the third-place game for “making a travesty of the game by conducting himself in a detrimental manner by directing foul and profane language” at Znarok. Russia eventually beat Finland for gold with Znarok’s assistant, Latvian Harijs Vitolins, named head coach for one game.
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: