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June 2004 - Vol 8 - No 3

23

  • -

    the magic number of e

  • As Canada celebrates its 23rd IIHF World Championship gold medal and also sits com-

fortably on top in the IIHF World Ranking, it’s worth reminding that Canada’s involvement in international ice hockey has not always been a smooth running operation. Canadian hockey historian Andrew Podnieks recalls the ups and downs of the country’s sta- tus in the global hockey community.

By Andrew Podnieks

  • How appropriate that two days before Canada

won the 2004 IIHF World Championship at the Sazka Arena in Prague that the mother country of hockey was awarded the 2008 showcase championship of the International Ice Hockey Federation. It was a timely coupling of events and has many levels of meaning to international hockey.

Recall that Canada was awarded the 1970 IIHF World Championship, Montreal and Winnipeg being the host cities. But the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) withdrew Canada from all international hockey competition because of a dispute revolving around the use of semi-pro players.

The CAHA wanted to be allowed to use about half a dozen semi-professional players at the championship in 1970, a wish that the international hockey community refused to allow. Canada had fared increasingly poorly at the IIHF World Championships and Olympics in the 1960s because it was sending its pure amateur players to these events to compete against the mature adult men from the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, coun- tries that insisted they had no professional players.

Today, there are no amateurs anymore in the premier international tournaments, and every country can send whomever it wants to any of these prestigious events.

be coerced. The watershed moment came in 1994 when Canada won gold at the IIHF World Championship, its first since 1961, and on the heels of a fantastic silver at the Lillehammer Olympics where the Canadians lost to Sweden in one of the most dra- matic shootouts in IIHF history.

  • Today, there are no Canadian brawls. The days of

“the ugly Canadian” belong to the past. The coaches and players have all had so much international experi- ence, from U18 to U20, to Olympics and the IIHF World Championships, that they are familiar with the refere- eing and the rules and the fans and style of play. They realize the stakes are high and that they can be com- petitive in any tournament they enter if they play a dis- ciplined game.

Today, they play with skill and speed. Canada defeated Sweden 5-3 in the gold medal game in 2004 with the poetic abilities of Dany Heatley leading the way, the same young man who led Canada to the victory in Finland 2003. The speed and skill of Joe Sakic and Paul Kariya led Canada to its first Olympic gold medal in 50 years in Salt Lake City in 2002.

This is truly a golden age for Canadian hockey. The men and women are currently both Olympic and World Champions and both are on top of the IIHF World Ranking, leading by a substantial margin.

  • But the CAHA’s decision to withdraw began a

series of events that allowed for today’s all-professio- nal tournaments. Out of that withdrawal came the monumental 1972 Summit Series between the Soviet Union and Canada, today seen as the start of the modern era of ice hockey. It was the first step in ali- gning the two “worlds” of ice hockey.

Nonetheless, not much changed for a number of years, until Günther Sabetzki became the new president of the IIHF in 1975 and made as his first priority to get Canada back into the international fold. To that end, he supported the all-pro Canada Cup tournament in 1976, on condition that Canada re-enter the IIHF World Championships, professional players and all, the follo- wing year.

  • When Canada played at the 1977 event (for the

first time since 1969), the showing was a sportive and a public relations disaster. The NHL players who went to Vienna to represent Canada had no idea what to expect and how the international game had developed. Many on the team had never played internationally, or in Europe, before. Canada regressed to violence and came home shamed and scorned for their behavior. It even became an issue in the Canadian parliament.

It took a long time for the CAHA (now Hockey Canada) to learn how to recruit players for the IIHF World Championships, asking them to fly halfway across the world after their season has ended in failure, to play more hockey after a grueling 80-game season. But by the early 1990s, the international hockey scene was so strong that players wanted to come-they didn’t have to

  • After some dark years of isolation and, later, diffi-

cult transition to the style of international hockey, Canada is back on top of the hockey world. Albeit kno- wing perfectly well that there are no final victories in sport, Canada won’t relinquish that position voluntarily.

It will be up to the other hockey powers to bring them down.

Heatley’s agony, miraculous recovery and golden finish

  • Dany Heatley began the 2003-04 season by attending the funeral of a friend who was passenger in a car

he slammed into a wall. After making a miraculous recovery -- physically and emotionally -- Heatley ended his season doing something no one has ever done in an IIHF World Championship history: he won the gold medal, led the tournament in goals and scoring points, was named tournament MVP, earned a Directorate Best Forward Award, and was named to the Championship All-Star team.

There were several key moments for Canada during the championship to which Heatley brought inspired play and timely scoring. For example, in the team’s first game, it was Heatley who scored the tying goal in a sluggish 2-2 tie with Austria to avoid losing to the skiing nation for the first time ever. He scored two goals in Canada’s 3-1 win over Switzerland, and against Germany, the toughest test of the Preliminary Round, he scored two goals and an assist in the first period to get Canada on the road to a 6-1 victory.

  • In the quarter-final against Finland, Heatley scored a goal and an assist to bring Canada back into a game

it trailed 2-0 and 3-1, and in overtime he blew a wicked slapshot over the shoulder of Mika Noronen to give Canada a thrilling extra-period 5-4 win and advance the team to the semi-final.

In the gold-medal game, Heatley took a brilliant lob pass from Scott Niedermayer and scored to bring Canada to 3-2 against Sweden, and in the first minute of the third period he set up the tying goal by Jay Bouwmeester. It was another dominating game for “Heater”, who raised the level of his game at exactly the moment when Canada needed it the most. Five honours for Heatley in Prague -- a world champion if ever there was one.

ANDREW PODNIEKS

Photo: PEKKA MONONEN, Europhoto

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