There was massive change and development in the world of international hockey during the 1990s, starting with perestroika and the fall of the Soviet Union. Soon after the Czechs and Slovaks achieved independence as did the various parts of Yugoslavia.
Russia became an entity while smaller former Soviet Republic also became independent and proved highly skilled on the world stage, notably Latvia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Lithuania, and Ukraine. Same as them, the Slovaks had to start from scratch after leaving Czechoslovakia but moved quickly from C to B to A Pool in remarkable fashion.
Yugoslavia fractured into several countries such as Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia. In all, 16 new nations joined the IIHF during the 1990-97 period.
While these political machinations had huge implications for the NHL and men’s hockey, the IIHF was also establishing a women’s event. First played in 1990, in Ottawa, Canada, the Women’s World Championship was played again in 1992, 1994, and 1997, after which it was played annually in non-Olympic years.
In 1994, René Fasel was elected new IIHF president, and who could have known then that his tenure would last more than a quarter of a century as he became the longest-serving leader in the century-old organization’s history.
The mid-1990s also saw the phenomenal explosion in popularity of the World Junior Championship, particularly in Canada. Gone were small arenas in small cities and in were NHL arenas cramming 19,000 exuberant fans into the building night after night. Soon enough, the IIHF arranged to give Canada the U20 every second year such was the immense and special importance of the junior event to the country. In return, more revenues meant more money for grassroots hockey around the world.
The international hockey landscape continued to change and evolve during this decade, starting with the first true NHL participation at the Olympics. For the first time the North American league shut down to allow most of its players to play, from Gretzky to Kurri to Hasek, and Bure.
NHL participation extended to the on-ice officials as well, as all top games featured a blend of European and North American officiating.
History was made in Japan as Hasek stoned five Canadians in a semi-finals shootout and then stopped every shot the Russians threw at him in a 1-0 Czech win for gold, the first Olympic championship for the hockey-mad nation.
That year in Nagano also saw women’s ice hockey featured as a medal sport for the first time, and the expected gold-medal final between Canada and the United States saw the favoured Canadians upset. The U.S. won the final 3-1.
The Czechs dominated the World Championship and World Juniors in these years, but often by playing “negative hockey”, hockey so defensive goals were too rare. As a result, the IIHF introduced rule changes that advanced the game forever, eliminating the red line to allow two-line passes and adopting quick faceoffs to speed up the pace of play.
Not only the Czechs were successful in those years but also its neighbour Slovakia, which won its first World Championship in 2002 and made it to the final also in 2000 and 2012.
In 2002, the IIHF moved into their current offices, a magnificent villa in the middle of Zurich that also boasts a modern, second building.
In 2004, the IIHF also established a World Ranking, a complex system of points earned over a four-year cycle that was also used for qualification purposes. It changed the way teams thought and gave a clear meaning to levels of excellence in the international hockey world.
One of the greatest upsets in hockey history took place at the Turin Olympics when Sweden’s women’s team defeated the United States in the semi-finals, in a shootout. It was a defining moment for future Hall of Famer Maria Rooth and her teammates.
This period culminated in 2008 with the IIHF centennial celebrations taking place during the first ever World Championship in Canada (Quebec City and Halifax). The 100-year anniversary gala was a feast for the eyes, and that night saw the announcement of the Centennial All-Star team. Vladislav Tretiak (RUS) was the goalie, Borje Salming (SWE) and Slava Fetisov (RUS) were the defencemen, and the forwards included Wayne Gretzky (CAN), Valeri Kharlamov (RUS), and Sergei Makarov (RUS).
The Hall of Fame ceremonies were also special because for the first time women Players were inducted. The first three so honoured were Angela James and Geraldine Heaney of Canada and America’s Cammi Granato.
The gold medal was won by arch-rivals Russia against the home side Canadians, in overtime no less, ending a 15-year drought.
In all, 15 more federations joined the IIHF family during this era as hockey continued to expand to evermore exotic nations, notably Liechtenstein, Macau, and Malaysia. As well, the IIHF also introduced the U18 World Championship for both female and male players, events that have continued to gain traction with the passing of every year.
If the highlight of the previous epoch was the IIHF Centennial Gala, the highlight of the most recent decade was another celebration, this during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Having created the Triple Gold Club, the IIHF hosted a ceremony honoring the first 22 members – and every one of them attended! It was an historic moment to see every player together who had won Olympic gold, the Stanley Cup, and World Championship gold.
The 2010 gold-medal game for the men was a repeat of 2002, and again Canada triumphed, this time in dramatic fashion. Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal on home ice to give Canada a 3-2 win, coming after Zach Parise had tied the game in the dying moments of regulation.
Canada’s women also pulled off a victory over the U.S., their third gold in a row, but nothing could compare to their win four years later in Sochi, still perhaps the greatest women’s game ever played. Trailing 2-0 late in the game, Canada tied the score after the Americans hit the post with Canada’s net empty. In the overtime, Marie-Philip Poulin scored her second gold-medal winner, and Canada took home a fourth Olympic gold. In 2018, the Americans turned the tables, winning in a shootout after tying the game in the later stages of the third period.
Equally impressive in Europe, the Swiss have advanced to the gold-medal game of the World Championship twice in the last five years (2013, 2018), shattering the long-held expectations of fans everywhere. Other nations continue to remain healthy in the top pool, notably Denmark and France, and in 2018 another kind of history was made when the Olympics went to Korea.
Not only did Korea’s men and women participate as hosts, the men also played at the Worlds. And, the women’s Olympic team was made up of players from both the North and South, an extraordinary gesture of sporting diplomacy.
The IIHF have added eleven more nations to its roster since 2009, bringing the membership to a staggering 76 by 2018. At the top level several countries successfully hosted their first World Championship as an independent nation: Latvia (2006), Slovakia (2011), Belarus (2014) and Denmark (2018).
Of course, off ice the biggest development during this period has been the role social media has played in society, and the IIHF has kept pace. Its Facebook page has hundreds of thousands of followers, as does its Twitter and Instagram pages. The induction ceremonies are now streamed live and are broadcast live on TV by the host nation every year. It has never been easier to follow international hockey, and the IIHF has made every effort to ensure the game is seen by as many fans around the world as possible.