It’s time for hockey fans all around the world to marvel at their favorite international tournament: after a long four years, it’s finally here. However, this year in Pyeongchang we will see a different version of the premier international ice hockey competition. For the first time since the 1994 Lillehammer Games, the superstars of the National Hockey League (NHL) won’t be participating.
The general disappointment of hockey fans around the world is tangible. On the other hand, the 2018 version of Olympic hockey could prove to be much more interesting than usual- if anything else, much less predictable. This year the national rosters are made up of semi-retired ex-NHL players, players currently with European teams (Domestic leagues of Russia, Sweden, Finland, etc.), those in developmental leagues (AHL/OHL/WHL in North America) and amateurs (semi-professional teams, college).
The men’s tournament won’t start until Wednesday, and the women’s tournament got underway early Saturday when Sweden defeated Japan 2-1 and Switzerland ruthlessly barraged hosts Korea in a 8-0 rout. With Russia (or the Olympic Athletes from Russia) being the odds-on favorite to win gold in the men’s tournament, let’s jump right in to the greatest moments in the history of Olympic ice hockey.
Why do a Top 7 list, and not a Top 5 or 10 you might ask? Seven is the number of countries that are fielding both a men and women’s team in the tournament. (Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Korea)
7. British Gold: Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936
In the fourth edition of the Winter Olympics held in Bavarian Germany in 1936, Great Britain won it all in what stands as the only time the nation(s) have ever won gold in the tournament. Other than a bronze medal 12 years before in the first ever Winter games at Chamonix 1924, it’s the only time the British ice hockey team have medaled at the Olympics. However, there is a catch: eight of the 12 players on the roster were actually raised in Canada, and another was born in Canada. Regardless of their expat status, they coincidentally went on to defeat the Canadians in the final: the British version of the “Miracle on Ice.”
6. Russian/Soviet Dominance Begins: 1956 Cortina
In their Olympic hockey debut, the Russians (then the Soviets) made sure the world knew they would be a force on the international hockey stage from that point forward. After Canada won six of the previous seven Olympic ice hockey competitions, Russia would go on to defeat them 2-0 to claim gold in Italy. After going undefeated in the 1956 games, the Russian team would go on to win seven of the next nine Olympic tournaments. As the Russian team seemed to benefit the most from the NHL-ban, they could add some hardware to their impressive collection in two weeks time.
5. USA win inaugural women’s Olympic hockey tournament: 1998 Nagano
The fierce rivalry between the Canadian and American women’s hockey teams began in Nagano 1998. The U.S. managed to overcome perennial powerhouse Canada 3-1 to claim gold in the first ever women’s version of the tournament. In their national and international debut, the American women outscored opponents 36-8 throughout the competition on their way to making history.
4. Hasek leads Czechs to glory: 1998 Nagano
In the first edition of the Olympic tournament with NHL players allowed to participate, the Czech Republic surprised the world when the small-nation team overcame Russia in the final to win it all. Dominic Hasek, a legend of NHL and hockey lore, couldn’t be bothered whilst giving up just six goals in six tournament games. Those games also included shutouts of both Canada and Russia.
3. Sidney Crosby Golden Goal: Vancouver 2010
Sidney Crosby is currently the best hockey player in the world. Although Connor McDavid might be the heir to the throne, the throne is currently occupied. At the Vancouver games in 2010, Crosby had one of the greatest moments of his illustrious career: scoring the overtime ‘golden goal’ against American goalie Ryan Miller to give Canada a gold medal. To step up and make an unlikely play from a bad angle in that moment earned Crosby what is arguably the greatest moment in Canadian hockey/sports history.
2. Forsberg brings glory to Sweden: Lillehammer 1994
In a shootout goal so legendary it earned him a spot on a Swedish postal stamp, Peter Forsberg undressed Canadian goalie Corey Hirsch to bring Sweden it’s first-ever gold medal in ice hockey. If you can deal with the poor video quality, check out the amazing move here. Sweden is an ice hockey powerhouse, consistently churning out world class players and currently have several NHL superstars of their own. (Erik Karlsson, Henrik Lundqvist) However, Forsberg is THE Swedish hockey legend and this goal cemented his legacy.
1. Miracle on Ice: Lake Placid 1980
Played in the context of political and national rivalry, turmoil, and the Cold War, the United States 1980 victory over the unanimously-favored Soviet team in Lake Placid is the one of the greatest sporting moments of all time. Named the top sports moment of the 20th century by the Associated Press, the ragtag amateur American team made up almost exclusively of college players overcame three deficits to defeat the Russian powerhouse. Goalie Jim Craig became an instant USA hockey legend as he made 36 saves to keep the Americans in the game. The iconic achievement can be defined by what coach Herb Brooks famously said to his team: “great moments are born from great opportunities.”
FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Henry Zbyszynski [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons