IIHF Top 100 WM Stories – Part IX
by Andrew Podnieks|15 MAY 2020
First gold for Finland in 1995! Ville Peltonen (right) celebrates his and Finland's third goal in the 1995 final game against host Sweden. The 3-0 goal was the "killer", with four second remaining of the second period.
photo: Europhoto
The great NFL coach Vince Lombardi once said that “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” While that isn’t the IIHF way of doing things, winning is ultimately the best way to make hockey history in the international game, and these stories tell of the ultimate examples of winning. They may not be the only thing, but they are great things all the same.

USA wins its first IIHF World Championship

In the early days of international hockey, Canada was all but invincible. It won the first four Olympic tournaments (1920, ’24, ’28, ’32) and the first two standalone World Championships (1930 and ’31) without losing a single game. In the 1933 world tournament in Prague, Czechoslovakia, the Americans and Canadians once again faced each other in the gold medal game on 26 February at the Zimni Stadion at Stvanice. The Canadian entry, the Toronto National Sea Fleas, was led by Harold Ballard, later the controversial owner of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. The Americans, represented in Prague by the Massachusetts Rangers, had Walter Brown as their coach. Brown, the president of the NHL’s Boston Bruins, became the president of the IIHF in 1954 and an inductee to both the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and the IIHF Hall of Fame. In 1933, that gold medal game was tied 1-1 after 45 minutes of regulation (three periods of 15 minutes), but six minutes into mandatory ten-minute overtime (i.e., teams played the full ten minutes and could score as many goals as they wanted) John Garrison scored on a beautiful solo effort for the U.S.. Canada couldn’t get it back, and the Americans won World Championship gold, still to this day their only trip to the top of the podium in World Championship competition.
The Massachusetts Rangers won the 1933 World Championship representing the United States, denying Canada for the first time.
photo: IIHF Archive

Soviets topple Canada for gold in first IIHF Worlds appearance

The Soviet Union made its first appearance in international hockey in 1954, and it did so in a blaze of glory. The team featured Nikolai Puchkov in goal as well as Yevgeni Babich, Vsevolod Bobrov, Valentin Kuzin, and Nikolai Khlystov. In their first game, they beat Finland, 7-1. They shut out Norway, 7-0, and beat West Germany, 6-2. It wasn’t until they played Czechoslovakia that they met a real challenge, but the Soviets responded with a convincing 5-2 victory. After beating Switzerland, 4-2, they had to settle for a 1-1 tie with the host nation, Sweden. Despite the impressive play by the Soviets, Canada, represented by the East York Lyndhursts, was doing even better. It won all six of its games by an aggregate score of 57-5, and this domination led to the all-important Canada-Soviet Union showdown of 7 March, the final day of the tournament. Canada needed only a tie to claim gold while the Soviets had to win outright if they were to take home gold. In the end, it was no contest. The Soviets jumped into the early lead, poured it on in the second period, and shut down any Canadian hopes for a comeback in the third. The result was a shocking 7-2 win and a gold medal in their first try. This was not only an improbable and impressive victory, though. It hailed the start of hockey’s first great rivalry.

Canada's Penticton Vees reclaim gold medal

When the 1955 World Championship started in West Germany, the Penticton Vees, Canada’s representatives, were expected not just to win gold but to restore pride to a nation that had been humiliated on the international stage the previous year. Indeed, that year’s World Championship was so important that the legendary announcer Foster Hewitt left his gondola at Maple Leaf Gardens during the height of the NHL season to fly to Germany and do the radio play-by-play for the championship. As the tournament progressed, the games went according to form: for every Canadian win, the Soviets also won. Clearly the last game of the tournament, between these two nations, would again determine the world champion. And it did, in emphatic fashion. Canada won, 5-0, thanks to the Warwick brothers – Grant, Bill, and Dick – and the stellar play of goaltender Ivan McLelland. Said Bill Warwick after the win: “Boy, this was better than winning the Stanley Cup.”
The Penticton Vees' 5-0 win secured the 1955 title. Captains Vsevolod Bobrov (left) and George McAvoy shake hands after the game. Centre: IIHF President Bunny Ahearne.
photo: IIHF Archive

Nilsson's empty netter seals Tre Kronor's first win over Canada

By the time of the 1962 World Championship, Canada and Sweden had a rivalry that went back to 1920, but in those 42 years and 20 games played (8 Olympics, 12 World Championships), Sweden had zero wins against their rivals. That changed in Colorado Springs, home of the ’62 tournament. Backstopped by rookie goaltender Lennart Haggroth and Ulf Sterner’s two goals, Sweden jumped to a 4-0 lead by the second period. Canada fought back, and the score was 4-3 as the final minutes ticked off the clock. Then, the Canadians pulled goaltender Harold “Boat” Hurley for a sixth attacker. Nisse Nilsson scored into the empty net, making it a 5-3 final. Tre Kronor went on to win gold for only the third time (1953 and 1957), but its historic victory over Canada was equal in national importance to the medal.
Ulf Sterner jumps in triumph after having given Sweden a 1-0-lead against Canada in 1962.
photo: Reportagebild

Czechoslovakia ends Soviet streak of nine straight gold medals

The year 1972 represented the first time that both an Olympics and World Championship would be held in the same year, and the latter event proved to be monumental. After Canada’s Trail Smoke Eaters defeated the Soviet Union 5-1 to win the 1961 World Championship gold, the Soviets went on a decade-long run of success during which time they seemed utterly invincible. They won nine straight events (Olympics and World Championships) starting in 1963, including the ‘72 Olympics. But a few weeks later, at the World Championship, a different story played out. The six teams played a double round robin, and after the first half of the tournament, both the Soviets and Czechoslovaks had four wins and a tie. Not surprisingly, the tie was a 3-3 score between each other. They continued to win, and their game of 20 April 1972, was surely going to decide gold. Czechoslovakia jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first, but Alexander Maltsev brought the Soviets to within a goal early the second. Jaroslav Holik made it 3-1 midway through the period, a goal that proved to be the game winner and one of the most famous in the history of Czechoslovak hockey. The Czechoslovaks won the game, 3-2, and the gold medal, sending fans in Prague’s Sportovni hala and across the entire nation into a frenzy. The Soviet winning streak was over, and it was ended by their political adversaries in Czechoslovakia. The sporting win was great; the cultural importance of the win even greater.

The Soviet Union avenges Olympic loss against Sweden in 13-1 win

The Miracle on Ice loss to the United States was a low point for Soviet ice hockey and for head coach Viktor Tikhonov, but he 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. The Soviets trashed Finland, 7-1, Canada, 8-2, Sweden, 4-1, and Czechoslovakia, 8-3, leading up to the potentially deciding game of the double round robin against Sweden on 24 April. The Scandinavium arena in Gothenburg was filled to capacity as the home crowd anticipated an upset. A win for Tre Kronor could mean the first World Championship gold since 1962. The game was scoreless after the first period. Now, if only Sweden could get the first goal and make the Soviets nervous. But they didn’t. Viktor Shalimov opened the scoring at 1:44 of the second period. Vladimir Krutov scored the second less than two minutes later, followed by four more unanswered goals in the middle period to make it 6-0. Game over. Thomas Steen finally got Sweden on board midway through the last period to make it 11-1, but Skvortsov and Kapustin managed two more late goals to complete the most lopsided score ever in a decisive international championship game, 13-1.

Amid the drama of 1987 Worlds, Sweden picks up first gold in 25 years

The 1987 World Championship in Vienna, Austria, was marred by the “Sikora case,” but as the tournament reached its climax there were four teams in the running for gold: Soviet Union, Canada, Czechoslovakia and Sweden, a country that had not won hockey gold since 1962. These four teams played a final round-robin playoff for the medals, and as it turned out the key game came on May Day, Sweden versus Soviet Union. Both teams had tied their first games, and in the second Tre Kronor-CCCP showdown the Soviets led 2-1 with less than two minutes remaining. The Swedes brought the puck up ice and finished a sensational passing play as Hakan Loob found Tomas Sandstrom alone in front. He put the puck in the open side to tie the game (see story 2), a result that ended up giving Sweden gold, its first in a quarter century.

Luc Robitaille Canada's hero, secures country's first gold in 33 years

Canada won gold at the 1961 World Championship but then endured a drought that lasted more than three decades. The country’s amateurs couldn’t keep up with Soviet pros; the country withdrew from international hockey; when pros were allowed, it couldn’t get its best. But by the 1990s, things started to come together. Canada narrowly missed out on Olympic gold in 1994, and three months later, for the World Championship in Milan, Italy, coach George Kingston assembled a team that even to this day could probably win gold. The names included Joe Sakic, Paul Kariya, Rod Brind’Amour, Jason Arnott, Rob Blake, Brendan Shanahan, and Luc Robitaille. Canada finished 5-0-0 in the round robin, and then beat the Czechs and Swedes to advance to the gold medal game against Finland. The only goals came in the third period, one each, and ten minutes of overtime settled nothing. In the shootout, both teams scored twice, and then Luc Robitaille scored the winner on a beautiful deke, giving Canada its first gold in 33 years.

"Tupu," "Hupu" & "Lupu" take Finland to the Top of the World

When Finland won its first World Championship in 1995, it did so in the finest way possible – defeating arch-rivals Sweden on Sweden’s home ice. And with a Swedish coach, no less! The Finns that year were led by Tupu, Hupu and Lupu (Finnish names for Donald Duck’s nephew triplets Huey, Dewey, and Louie). More specifically, the team’s best three forwards formed the Donald Duck Line, so called because of their youth. There was 21-year-old Saku Koivu (Tupu), 22-year-old Ville Peltonen (Hupu), and another 22-year-old, Jere Lehtinen (Lupu). They had played together for the first time in Lillehammer, and at the ’95 Worlds they were already mature players in top form. Suomi beat France and Czech Republic in the early rounds of the playoffs to advance to the gold medal game, where Peltonen scored the first three goals and assisted on a fourth. Suomi had an insurmountable 3-0-lead after two periods. That third goal was the killer, a beautiful tic-tac-toe play between Koivu, defenceman Mika Stromberg, and Peltonen who connected at 19:56 of the middle period. Final score: Finland 4, Sweden 1. An historic gold for Finland.
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: