There’s a lot of little Canadian hockey stories that float around during this time of year. Some don’t get past the lips of those who live through it. Some do. I think it’s important to truly understand every aspect of the game, right down to the people who flood the rinks. It’s also important to understand how they got there.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the people of the world were put through many twists and turns in their everyday lives. In between fighting two big wars in Europe, the world plunged into economic turmoil as the stock markets crashed. On that Black Tuesday in 1929, Canada and the rest of the world entered the Great Depression.
Out on the Eastern coast of the country Newfoundland was particularly hit the hardest. As they were still a Dominion of the British Empire and not a province of Canada just yet, the Depression drove in a nail to their deathbed having the challenging economy pile on top of reparations from World War I, construction of the Newfoundland railroad and the collapse of fisheries.
As violent protests and riots seemed the norm across the area, the people of Newfoundland found themselves suffering from malnutrition and diseases like tuberculosis began to spread. It’s hard to believe that something this bad was happening within Canada’s borders but, that’s history.
In June of 1933 in the Dominion of Newfoundland’s capital, St. John’s, Robert Cecil Cole was born into those trying times. However, the resilience of a Newfoundlander is tested many times through life and they will always prevail.
The man who came to be known in hockey households worldwide as Bob Cole, begin his broadcasting career as a 23 year old working for St. John’s AM radio station, “Voice Of the Common Man”. Started in a house by another St. John’s lad Walter Williams in 1936, the VOCM radio station gave Cole the chance to find his voice as an announcer and newsreader.
After gaining his bearings and some confidence under his belt Cole made his way inland to Toronto where he met up with legendary hockey announcer Foster Hewitt. Hewitt, who was then the voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs, provided Cole with valuable advice. Cole managed to leave some of his demo tapes behind and well, the rest is history. I like to think that Hewitt’s famous Hockey Night in Canada sign on of “Hello, Canada, and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland”, was foreshadowing of a future Newfoundland takeover. (It wasn’t. Like I mentioned earlier, Newfoundland wasn’t apart of Canada when Hewitt wrote that line.)
Cole started off in 1969 with CBC Radio. A short four years later (and after calling Paul Henderson’s winning goal over the USSR in 1972), Cole transferred over to television for the newly expanded version of Hockey Night in Canada. Along with Danny Gallivan in Montreal, and Bill Hewitt (Foster’s son), the CBC had a very strong three punch announcing tandem. Upon Hewitt’s retirement, Cole became the voice of the Leafs. Cole also was the voice for many international and Olympic match ups. One of his most famous calls is my all time favourite:
Foster Hewitt was the voice of a generation. He was the hockey voice of my parents’ generation. However there is nothing more nostalgic then hearing Bob Cole and his color commentator Harry Neale call a hockey game. I’m instantly brought back to my cold Canadian winter childhoods of watching HNIC every Saturday night. Hell, even when they only started broadcasting the game at the second period.
There are a lot of hidden gems in hockey’s history. Thankfully this one didn’t stay hidden for long.
In honour of Canada Day, I’ve decided to throw together a little list of my top five Team Canada showings. In my “rankings” I consider the roster, the era of when the team played and how well they did. Remember, this is just my opinion and it will probably defer a lot from most. I won’t be naming the Summit Series either because everyone knows about that one. So sit back, grab your Timmie’s or Molson, eat some poutine and read about some of my country’s greatest teams.
5. Men’s Olympic Team – Sochi, Russia 2014
I know, I’m starting off with one that everybody knows about but I have to mention it. The only thing better than winning gold on Russian soil, is winning it at home. However, the 2014 squad proves that they were miles ahead of the Vancouver 2010 victory. Dominating their last two games against the US and Sweden, Team Canada (“senior” team, not junior) hasn’t shown this much power since the early 90’s.
A younger, faster Team Canada emerged. The changing of the old guard is indeed in play as players like Jamie Benn, Matt Duchene, John Tavares, Alex Pietrangelo, showed the world why we have the best developmental system going. Sweden didn’t hold a flame to how we played in the gold medal game. If you thought this team was scary; if the NHL will allow players to participate, just wait until the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
4. The 1987 Canada Cup team
The forerunner to the World Cup in the 90’s and early 2000’s, the Canada Cup was an exhibition tournament that took place before the NHL regular season. The NHL didn’t allow its players into the Olympics yet so this was one of the ways where the best hockey countries could compete for the title of World’s best. Players from the USSR weren’t allowed to play in North America just yet either and the Canada Cup was used as a way to see how the Russians were building their skill. Canada went undefeated to take the gold.
Some even put the Canada/USSR match-ups in this tournament ahead of the 1972 Summit Series as the best exhibition hockey ever seen. Want to know why? Just read off this lineup for Team Canada:
Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey, Mark Messier, Dale Hawerchuk, Doug Gilmour, Ron Hextall, Kelly Hrudey, Claude Lemieux, Rick Tocchet, Larry Murphy, Glenn Anderson, Craig Hartsburg, Mike Gartner, Brian Propp, James Patrick, Normand Rochefort and Grant Fuhr.
On paper, that line up is golden before the first skate blade hits the ice. I’m all for fairness though and giving credit where credit is due, case in point; the Russians lineup was insane as well. I’ll name off some of the more familiar names: Sergei Makarov, Vyacheslav Fetisov, Valeri Kamensky, Igor Larionov, Sergei Nemchinov, and Anatoli Semenov. The Soviets only lost one game. Guess to who.
By the way, this is was the only time Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux played on the same line together. Hell, the winning goal was scored by Lemieux from Gretzky. I’ve watched highlights of the games and how they dominated the ice is just unbelievable. It’s something that I personally think we’ll never see again.
3. Women’s Olympic Team – Salt Lake City, USA 2002
In the late 90’s, women’s hockey was just starting to get its push and the recognition it deserved. It wasn’t anywhere near being a global sport as both the US and Canada were the top two teams year after year. The only difference from present day is that other countries are quickly gaining speed and getting stronger. Back then, well, poor old Sweden was in for it.
The 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan were the first to include women’s hockey as an Olympic sport. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in grade five and almost all of my school work was done around the Olympics. (In fact, my teacher decided to have her fun and give me a complete project on Russia. From beginning of time until present. Jokes on her, she gave me 100%) Actually, you know what’s funny? Russia never qualified for the tournament. JAPAN AND CHINA DID.
Anyway, Canada, the US and to a lesser extent Finland, dominated the pool. Most games finished in shutouts with box scores set in the double digits. (Also, Canada almost a gave up a close one to China, finishing 2-0. Seems like we always do this every single Olympics. See: Belarus 2002, Latvia 2014) Everyone knew who would be in the final. It was just playing the waiting game until then. Low and behold, the Red, White and Blue became victorious, shocking the world.
Enter Salt Lake City 2002.
Looking for revenge the women of Team Canada stepped up their game a notch. Maybe with the luck of planting a loonie at center ice underneath the surface, they were out for blood. Canada was undefeated in their pool and managed 26 goals for against the likes of Sweden, Russia and Kazakhstan. There was only one team with a better record: USA.
In front of almost 10,000 die hard Team USA faithful, the red and white notched three bangers to seal the deal. Caroline Ouellette, Hayley Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford were three names that Canada will never forget. They haven’t let up since either.
2. Men’s Junior team – World Juniors, 1987 aka the Punch-up in Piestany
If you don’t know me by now, you’ll know that I have a keen love of enforcers and fighting in hockey; I’m all for it when there’s legitimate cause. If you know your hockey, you’ll also know that this team didn’t even medal or place. They got thrown out of the tournament. So why am I including it? Well, this tournament is the one that started our nation’s love of the junior tournament.
The 1987 World Juniors took place in Pietsany, Czechoslovakia and with international politics at the time in the midst of a nuclear meltdown with the Cold War, it’s safe to say that North America and the USSR didn’t really like each other. Especially on the ice.
When these two teams met, the Russians were already out of medal contention. Canada, on the other hand, had a really huge chance at a gold medal. If they scored more than four goals, victory was theirs. Naturally, there was tons of animosity in the air. Especially when after scoring the opening goal, Theo Fleury did his famous slide towards the Soviet bench and pointed his stick towards them like a machine gun, opening fire. That probably didn’t sit well.
Towards the end of the second period, Canada was up with a comfy 4-2 lead. However, after a fight, Soviet player Pavel Kostichkin two handed Fleury obviously retaliating for his previous actions. Well, all hell broke loose after that.
A line brawl went into motion with Evegeny Davydov the first to jump the bench. All bets were off now as both teams cleared the benches. Valdimir Konstantinov broke Greg Hagwood’s nose, Mike Keane dummied Valeri Zelepukin, Stephane Roy got pretty much jumped and yet nobody stopped it. The inexperience of the refs assigned to this game played a pretty big factor in this melee.
Then the refs left the rink. Beautiful. How do you stop two big, bad hockey countries from killing? Well, you shut the lights off! That’s how!
Anyway, the brawl was eventually simmered down and the game canceled. The IIHF threw out both teams and suspended them. We may have not won gold, but that event is the exact reason why Canadians care about junior hockey so much.
1. Men’s Olympic Team – Vancouver, Canada 2010
Okay. I’ll admit it on the internet. I was in the bathroom when Sidney Crosby scored the “golden” goal. That was the only part of the tournament I missed. Yes, I’m a horrible Canadian. That being said, I’ve never EVER seen a country come together like Canada did for that game, hell, for those Olympics. Everyone was beaming with pride at every moment.
That’s the reason it takes the top spot. Not because we won gold, not because of hockey but because of our love for Canada. The red and white. The true north strong and free. The patriotism this country had for those cold two weeks in February 2010 might not ever be felt again in my lifetime. Hell, I was on the other side of the country but you could still feel it. I hope every Canadian, and I mean every Canadian, where ever you are in the world, gets a chance to feel like I did that day. Proud of your country.
Officiating always comes under subjective scrutiny in any sport. As the sport continues to grow and get bigger and as games get more meaningful, we tend to focus more on the rule enforcers. In international competition, politics come into play and at the very worse can taint your sport for life.
The International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships just wrapped up their 2014 tournament in Minsk, Belarus. Taking place every May, the tournament has attempted to showcase the best of the best in international hockey. However, its timing has always been debated as strange with the NHL playoffs proceeding at the same time. Many people feel, at least on North American soil, that this tournament is really just a waste of ice.
Russia became 2014 World Champions after a controversial defeat over Finland. The Finns got robbed by very questionable officiating and after playing one of the best games in their nation’s history, was forced to be regulated to second. Calls were blown on the ice in favour of Russia and penalties that should have never even be questioned were called against Finland.
Talk immediately became not of the two talented teams on the ice but of the black and white striped individuals who dictate the play. Some say the refs played in Russia’s favour to make up for their horrible demise at the Sochi Olympics. You’ll never be able to find out if there was a motive behind their calls or if they’re just terrible international referees but it shines a black eye on the sport.
It’s time to bring back the World Cup of Hockey.
The World Cup of Hockey came to fruition in the mid 1970’s, originally called the Canada Cup. Doug Fisher and Alan Eagleson formed the tournament on the basis of showcasing the best hockey talent of the world through various nations and their competing squads. It would be held every three to five years and would take place in NHL venues before the start of the NHL regular season. As the Winter Olympics were still considered amateur competition and the IIHF World Championships always coincided with the NHL playoffs, this tournament would truly hold the best of the best.
In the mid 90’s the Canada Cup changed its name to the World Cup of Hockey. The World Cup was played under NHL rules and NHL officiating. The United States won the inaugural championship beating Canada. Along with their North American counterparts, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Russia, Finland, Germany and Slovakia each iced their own squad. Another tournament was held in 2004 during the lockout and proved to be successful.
The problem is this tournament is not held often enough to put an end to the IIHF World Championships. There’s talk of another World Cup happening in 2016, a non-Olympic year, which would put a 12 year gap between tournaments. NHL rules and rinks provide the game with the best players on the ice. There’s no reason for international rules and referees to come in a game with a political contest in mind, this isn’t the 1960’s anymore.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be talking about this nor would I be writing this article. I don’t want to read articles about how the refs are putting the sabotage to one side. Leave that to Olympic ice skating. I’d rather listen to Don Cherry scream about the World Cup.
Unless you’re the Ottawa Senators (cause banning Toronto fans into the Crappy Tire Centre can’t be too far behind.), fans from the opposing team in that evening’s game might be scarce. Sure there might be a couple of fans who live in town or a few might make a road trip down but there a few things to consider if you decide to head down this road.
1. Don’t Be A Drunken Loud Mouth Idiot This is just asking for it. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen away fans lose their mind and get into people’s faces when their team scores only to be heckled even worse by the home fans surrounding them. Being a loud mouth in general is stupid but in certain arenas, this isn’t taken too lightly. Sit down, shut up, fist pump and scream a couple “Woohoo!” if you must but relax. You’re a visitor. (Toronto fans in Ottawa disregard this as I actually think it’s funny.)
2. Do Not Flaunt Your Jersey
I’m not saying don’t wear it. In fact, I recommended every fan in every sport to wear their jerseys with pride. Just don’t flaunt it. You’ve already been spotted with it on and mentally noted as the enemy. For some reason, this is worse in places like Montreal and I hate to it, Boston. Personal story time: A few years ago my cousin, a Leafs fan, took in a regular season game in Montreal. He got up and did the occasional high fives and woohoo’s after every Leaf goal but was very tame. The Leafs ended up winning and on the way out, with him flaunting around his jersey got stabbed in the leg. Yes, it was stupidity on both parts but for future reference, just don’t do this. Granted, some people are just complete morons, hence this video:
3. Do Not Get Into The Home Town Fans Faces
This ties in with statement number 1 and it should be a given. There is nothing worse than know it all idiots who do nothing but rub the score in all game. News flash for you buddy, you’re outnumbered. If you’re gonna debate hockey stats, make sure you know your stuff buddy. Make one wrong move and it’s lights out for you.
4. Respect The Home Town Team
I don’t care how much you hate them. I don’t care how intense this “hatred” is. Respect the home team. You’re in their arena; their home. You’d want to be shown the same respect from visiting fans in your rink wouldn’t you? Furthermore, the players on your team are under just as much scrutiny as you are.
Oh…..and don’t be this guy. Goes for both home and away fans.