The Stanley Cup finals are almost here. For football fans, Euro 2020 is in full swing. And the Tokyo Summer Olympics will kick off in exactly a month. After that it’s time for the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship. Therefore, it’s a great time for ice hockey fans to celebrate hockey stars who kept amazingly busy – by excelling at other sports.
Central and Eastern Europe yielded multiple multi-sport marvels in the mid-20th century. Take Vsevolod Bobrov. After putting the USSR on the global hockey map by leading them to their first-ever IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship title in Stockholm in 1954, he became the only athlete ever to captain both the Soviet Olympic football and ice hockey teams. Bobrov achieved that distinction at the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics and 1956 Cortina d’Ampezzo Winter Olympics (gold), topping the latter tournament with nine goals. In addition, he was an elite bandy player.
This extraordinarily versatile goal-scorer was, interestingly, first exposed to hockey at age 22 in Great Britain in 1945 while on tour with Dynamo Moscow’s football club. Bobrov, who also coached the Soviets in the 1972 Summit Series and won the 1973 and 1974 Worlds behind the bench, was elected to the inaugural 1997 IIHF Hall of Fame class.
Combining hockey with high-level football also came naturally to other Soviet luminaries. Mikhail Bychkov – a 1954 world champion, 1955 Worlds silver medalist, and 1960 Olympic bronze medalist in hockey – captured the 1949 Soviet Cup with Torpedo Moscow and played football in the summer right up until 1954, when he decided to specialize in hockey. Vladimir Elizarov, a 1958 Worlds silver medalist who later discovered Boris Mikhailov and invited him to join CSKA Moscow, also won Soviet championships in football and bandy. Yuri Blinov, who peaked in 1972 with the Summit Series and Olympic gold and World Championship silver, won Moscow-area football scoring titles as a youngster.
And of course, there’s Arkadi Chernyshev. The groundbreaking Dynamo Moscow coach – inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 1999 – is best-known for guiding the USSR to four Olympic hockey gold medals (1956, 1964, 1968, 1972) and 11 World titles between 1954 and 1971. However, in the 1930s and ‘40s, while Chernyshev also played ice hockey for Dynamo Moscow, he distinguished himself as a midfielder in football with both Dynamo Moscow and FC Minsk, winning USSR football titles with the former in 1937 and 1940 and with the latter in 1947. He also captured five USSR bandy championships. As with Bobrov, one of the KHL’s four divisions is named after Chernyshev.
There’s also an example of multi-sports athlete much more famous in football. From 1950 to 1953, Lev Yashin – arguably international football’s all-time greatest goalkeeper – suited up as a hockey netminder for Dynamo Moscow winning the USSR Cup and bronze at the Soviet ice hockey championship on top of his vast medals and honours in football. The only ice hockey player to win the Soviet championship in three sports was former Dynamo Moscow forward Vasili Trofimov, who also succeeded in football and bandy.
In Czechoslovakia, Vlastimil Bubnik built a superb hockey legacy. The Brno sniper, an 11-time national champion, was the leading goal-scorer at the 1954 Worlds (11) and 1955 Worlds (17). Even more notably, the 1960 Olympic bronze medalist became the all-time leading points-getter (36) in Olympic history, tied with Canada’s Harry Watson and the USSR’s Valeri Kharlamov, until they were all surpassed by Finland’s Teemu Selanne at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Bubnik, though, also played 11 Czechoslovak national team football games and enjoyed a long career in his country’s top football league.
Meanwhile, Czechoslovakia was also producing master puckhandlers who wielded tennis rackets with equal ease in Jaroslav Drobny and Vladimir Zabrodsky.
Drobny also won silver at the 1948 St. Moritz Olympics, but declined an opportunity to play for the Boston Bruins. After defecting from his Communist homeland and taking Egyptian citizenship, he attained new heights in tennis, winning the French Open in 1951 and 1952 and the 1954 Wimbledon championship.
Interestingly, Drobny once had Austria’s Alfred Huber as a tennis doubles partner. Huber also still ranks among the all-time youngest male Worlds (16, 1947) and Olympic ice hockey (17, 1948) players in the IIHF Record Book. Like Drobny, he represented his country in the Davis Cup in tennis, as did German hockey legend Gustav Janecke (a three-time hockey Olympian who won bronze in Lake Placid 1932).
Zabrodsky, a fellow IIHF Hall of Famer who passed away at 97 in 2020, was Drobny’s teammate at the 1947 Worlds and 1948 Olympics. Zabrodsky also captained the 1949 World Championship gold medalists in Stockholm. He was a prolific marksman, scoring 26 of the Czechoslovakians’ 85 goals in 1947 and 23 of their 80 goals at the ‘48 Winter Games. A longtime member of the Czechoslovakian Davis Cup team (1948, 1954, 1995), he achieved a singles highlight by winning two matches against Belgium in the first round in 1955. Ten years later, Zabrodsky would defect to Sweden, where he coached Leksands IF, Rogle BK, and Djurgardens IF and lived out the rest of his days.
Sweden also had its share of 20th-century multi-sport marvels. The legendary Sven Bergqvist suited up for Tre Kronor at the 1935 and 1938 Worlds and the 1936 Winter Olympics, but the 1999-inducted IIHF Hall of Famer also dazzled as Hammarby Stockholm’s goalkeeper, earning 35 caps with the Swedish national football team. Bergqvist also starred in bandy and handball, and was invited to represent Sweden in the latter sport at the 1936 Summer Olympics but went there for the football team and thus played two Olympics in the same year! Remarkably, after ending up in a wheelchair after a 1955 car accident, Bergqvist took up archery and had a chance to compete at the 1960 Paralympics, but passed it up, since he would have had to pay all his own costs.
Even better-known was 1997-inducted IIHF Hall of Famer Sven “Tumba” Johansson. This man could truly do it all. The two-time ice hockey Olympian (1952 bronze, 1964 silver), who won gold at three Worlds (1953, 1957, 1962), suited up for one international game against Norway for the national football team in 1956 (and became Swedish champion with Djurgarden in 1959) and even became the Swedish waterskiing champion. But Tumba’s greatest impact outside hockey came in golf. Not only did he represent his country at the 1974 World Cup in Venezuela, but he also popularized the sport all over Sweden, putting on exhibitions with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, designing golf courses, and starting new tournaments.
However, among multi-sport Canadian hockey players, Lionel Conacher deserves a paragraph of his own.
In 1954, Conacher was honoured as Canada’s Greatest Male Athlete of the Half-Century, and it wasn’t just for having two Hockey Hall of Fame younger siblings in Charlie Conacher and Roy Conacher. Lionel Conacher, as a defenceman, became one of just eight NHLers all-time to win back-to-back Stanley Cups with different franchises (1934 Chicago Black Hawks, 1935 Montreal Maroons). But back in 1921, he not only won the Grey Cup with the Canadian football champion Toronto Argonauts, but also fought legendary boxer Jack Dempsey in an exhibition match. Lionel Conacher went on to win national boxing, lacrosse, and wrestling titles. As a member of the Canadian Parliament, he died tragically young at age 54 in 1954. Yet his legacy lives on with the Lionel Conacher Award, which the Canadian Press awards annually to Canada’s top male athlete.
Finland isn’t known as an elite football country by any means – its qualification for Euro 2020, for instance, was the first in its history. However, Finland’s Kari Eloranta, a three-time Olympian who won silver on defence at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games and a four-time Worlds participant, also won two national football titles with his native Lahti – one of them in the same year after competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
And then there’s TPS Turku’s biggest legend, Timo Nummelin, who won Finnish championships with the club in both ice hockey and football. While he was better known in ice hockey where he appeared in 225 international games including eight IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships, he also had 14 appearances with the football national team and became Finnish player of the year in both sports.
Several countries outside the traditional hockey powers have spawned noteworthy multi-sport men, especially in football.
Latvian great Arvids Jurgens was a four-sport wonder. In addition to playing high-level basketball and bandy, Jurgens represented his homeland in football at the 1924 Summer Olympics and in ice hockey at the 1936 Olympics, not to mention the 1933 and 1935 IIHF Worlds. Romania can lay claim to Andrei Barbulescu, who enjoyed the amazing double whammy of playing at the 1938 FIFA World Cup and also at the 1947 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, and Mihai Flamaropol, who was best-known as a Bucharest-born footballer, but joined Barbulescu on the ‘47 Worlds team and continued to play hockey till age 40.
As for Switzerland, Francis Blank played top-level football and hockey in Neuchatel, and represented Switzerland in hockey at the 1952 Olympics and three World Championships (1953-55). And Blank’s teammate Mike Speidel, who cracked the Swiss national hockey team as a centre, also played both sports and enjoyed some elite football highlights, such as playing for his hometown FC Basel in the UEFA European Cup and taking on Pele’s FC Santos in a Basel exhibition game.
Women’s hockey players impress as modern-day multi-sports athletesWomen’s hockey players have also achieved incredible multi-sport feats, and Switzerland’s Katrin Lehmann is one good example. Appointed as an assistant coach for Switzerland’s 2021 Women’s Worlds squad in Calgary, Lehmann, 41, has enjoyed a great hockey career as a forward, suiting up in 2020/21 for Germany’s ESC Planegg. The two-time Olympian (2006, 2010) won a bronze medal in her last of seven Women’s Worlds appearances in 2012 in Burlington, Vermont. Yet she has also stepped up as a football goalkeeper with Germany’s FC 2001 Duisburg, winning the 2009 UEFA Women’s Cup. As well, she played for FFC Wacker Munchen and Bayern Munich and for the Swiss women’s national team.
Hockey off the iceBall hockey, a Canadian staple on streets and playgrounds, has attracted stars like Geraldine Heaney, sometimes dubbed the “Bobby Orr of women’s hockey.” Born in Northern Ireland, Heaney played in two World Ball Hockey Championships (gold 1992, silver 1994), and also participated in two kinds of football, European soccer and Gaelic football. Of course, the high-flying defender is best-known as a 2002 Olympic gold medalist and seven-time world champion. Heaney joined Angela James and Cammi Granato as part of the inaugural female class inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2008.
Alex Burrows, who helped the Vancouver Canucks make it to the 2011 Stanley Cup final and also played for Canada at the 2014 Worlds, doubled as a ball hockey superstar in his early minor-pro days. He won world titles in Sierre, Switzerland in 2003 and Pittsburgh, USA in 2005.
The list of hockey stars who have excelled at inline hockey is long and impressive. It includes German Olympians Michael Wolf, Felix Schutz, and Thomas Greilinger. Swiss goalie Martin Gerber, who made history with his 2-0 shutout over Canada at the 2006 Turin Winter Games and won silver at the 2013 Worlds, became an inline hockey world champion as a goalie in 1999 but later scored goals in inline hockey as a forward.
Even bigger NHL names who have laced up their roller blades include Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist and the Czech Republic’s Karel Rachunek and Ales Hemsky, the latter of whom played under his father Petr Hemsky.
And we can’t overlook Huib Du Pon, who not only suited up for the Netherlands at the 1935 and 1939 Worlds, but also coached the national field hockey team from 1948 to 1950, winning bronze at the 1948 Olympics in London. In addition, he competed in rowing.
Champions from other sports go on iceBeyond these Olympic and World Championship-level prodigies, we also have examples of world-class athletes from other sports who played ice hockey at the domestic league level or lower levels.
Czech football goalkeeper Petr Cech – a Premier League superstar with Chelsea and Arsenal – made his 2019 hockey debut in net for the Guildford Phoenix of England’s NIHL Division 2, wearing Dominik Hasek’s #39 as a tribute.
Bulgaria’s Amalia Koleva is a world champion in Taekwon-Do, but she has also competed for her national hockey team since its 2008/09 launch, including the infamous 82-0 loss to Slovakia in Olympic qualifying play that season, until Bulgaria’s most recent participation at the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division III.
There are so many what-ifs when it comes to multi-sport athletes. For instance, Wayne Gretzky was an accomplished track athlete and starred at baseball. What if “The Great One” had gone the route of another 1961-born Ontarian, Kirk McCaskill, and ended up as an MLB ace? We’ll never know.
Yet on Olympic Day, we can definitely salute ice hockey players from all ages and genders all over the world who showed their passion and skill not only on the ice, but also on the fields and courts of other sports.