Tuesday, January 26, 2010

1980 Olympics, Not so Miraculous for Canada

When one thinks of the Lake Placid 1980 Winter Olympics, any self-respecting hockey fan instantly thinks of the U.S.A.'s Gold Medal "miracle on ice". Indeed, a group of American college kids ended up slaying the Russian bear, but in most circles Team Canada was rated higher than the States going into the '80 Games.

Canada had played the U.S eight times prior to the Olympics and won five of those games. As well, they had defeated the Soviets in the once prestigious Izvestia tournament over Christmas 1979 right in Moscow. They thus became the first Canadian team to win on Russian soil since the 1972 Summit Series. Canada had also beaten both the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers in pre-season tune ups. This was a team that was peaking, but in hindsight they peaked two months too soon.

Most prognosticators had picked the Soviets and Canada finishing one, two in their six team division and Czechoslovakia and the U.S. one, two in their division. Even bigger than Canada not progressing to the second round was the Czechs failing to qualify for the medal round with losses to both the U.S. and Sweden in the prelims. Czechoslovakia had won the World Championships in 1976 and 1977 and their 7-3 defeat at the hands of the Americans in the second game of the tournament may be even more shocking than the Soviets losing by only one goal to the same young miracle-makers.

Canada's own medal hopes were destroyed mainly because of two unexpected, flukey events. In their third game they lost to Finland 4-3 on what can only be described as a "Tommy Salo/Dan Cloutier-like" 100 foot dump in on goalie Bob Dupuis. Even with this unexpected defeat, the Canadians had a good shot of continuing to the medal round if Poland did the expected and defeat Holland. The Dutch had lost to Canada 10-1 and the Soviets 17-4 while Poland had fared somewhat better losing 5-1 and 8-1 to the same two squads and had actually beaten Finland 5-4 in the opening game of the tourney. Alas the freaky, deaky Dutch bested the Poles 5-3, knocking Canada out of the second spot. Canada would have played Sweden and the U.S. in the next round, two teams they had fared well against in the past.

As an aside, the Dutch team was led by Mississauga, Ontario born Dick Decloe who scored at a point per game clip in both the OHL and Boston University during the early 1970's. Decloe tallied five points over five Olympic matches. Their goaltender Ted Lassen hailed from Oakville, Ontario and played junior with the London Knights and was also a member of the Ned Dowd-era (just prior to Slap Shot) Johnstown Jets.

There is no doubting that the American's triumph was one of the greatest underdog stories in sport history, but perhaps with just a bounce here or a break there...it could have been the Canadians writing the script.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

1948 Olympic Hockey almost cancelled


This is what the headline read in a Canadian Press story dated Jan. 30, 1948. The controversy involved the United States sending TWO hockey teams to St.Moritz, Switzerland. Each team claimed to be the country's representative, the conflict almost cancelled the entire tournament.
In the thoroughly detailed book "Gold Medal Misfits" by Pat MacAdam, the whole scenario is explained.

It seems two different athletic bodies in the U.S. laid claim to the right to send a hockey squad to the 1948 Games. In 1947 the Amateur Hockey Association (AHA) replaced the American Athletic Union (AAU) as the United States' member of the International Ice Hockey Federation. The IIHF and the Swiss Olympic Committee each recognized the AHA as the governing body in the U.S. However, the head of the International Olympic Committee, ex-American decathlete Avery Brundage sided with the AAU. Brundage termed the AHA team "an outlaw organization" and deemed that it allowed professionals to play. The Brundage supported AAU team was made up of players from Ivy league school Dartmouth. In fact they were extremely deep in talent with Dartmouth having dominated U.S. college hockey in the 1940's (between 1941 and 1946 they went 46 games without a loss). Indeed, while sending one team to St. Moritz, they still had enough talent to stock a team in college play back home.

Bunny Ahearne of the IIHF declared that if the un-recognized AAU were to play, all other countries would go down the road to Davos and stage the World Championships in lieu of the Olympics.

Brundage finally caved in two hours before the Olympic flame was lit and allowed the AHA team to play. The tournament was not recognized as official by the IOC until Feb 7, 1948 when each country had already played seven games. Eventually the U.S. team would be summarily disqualified after finishing in fourth place.
Some believe that if both American teams had joined into one squad, they would have easily won the gold medal in '48.

Canada, represented by the Royal Canadian Air Force ended up winning gold with seven wins and a tie in eight games. They finished with an identical record to Czechoslovakia after a 0-0 tie against the Czechs. Canada won the gold on the strength of a higher goals for divided by goals against quotient. This was the tie breaking formula at the time as opposed to a simple goals differential. Canada was 69 goals for, 5 against for a quotient of 13.8 and the Czechs were 80 for, 18 against for 4.44.

Canada's Walter Halder led the tournament in scoring with 21 goals and 8 assists over the 8 games. Team U.S.A. forward Jack Kirrane would in fact return to the Olympics to captain the U.S. to a gold medal at Squaw Valley in 1960.

Olympic Hockey Pool


I'm running an Olympic hockey pool, check it out on the site above.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Olympic Hockey, 1920

Ice hockey first appeared as a demonstration Olympic event at the 1920 summer games in Antwerp, Belgium and it was not until 1983 that the IOC declared the results of that tournament "official" in their eyes. Participating countries were Belgium, France, Switzerland, Czechoslavakia and Sweden joined Canada and the U.S.

Each match consisted of two twenty minute halves and there was no "changing on the fly" permitted. The indoor rink measured 185 by 59 feet, narrow by today's standards.

Legendary announcer Foster Hewitt's father, W.A. Hewitt was Secretary of the Canadian team and would referee the first ever Olympic hockey game between Belgium and Sweden. The elder Hewitt commented on the 'equipment' of the Swedes, "They dressed like soccer players, did not wear shoulder, elbow or shin pads...their goaltender wore what looked like a cross between a blacksmith's apron and an aviator's coat."

Canada was represented by the Winnipeg Falcons who had defeated University of Toronto in the Allan Cup. The Falcons were still in Toronto when they received word they would be representing Canada at the Olympics. There was no time to return to Winnipeg so each player was given $25 in clothing allowance. They set sail from Saint John, New Brunswick with cured wood they had purchased in Montreal. The ship's carpenter fashioned two dozen sticks for them to use in Europe. They arrived in Antwerp, Belgium on April 14 and were rousingly greeted by the Belgians as six members of the Falcons had fought in France and Belgium in World War One.

The Falcons were led by Frank Fredrickson who had scored 22 goals in 6 games in the Allan Cup and added 12 in 3 games at the Olympics. He would return home to turn professional with the Victoria Arisocrats of the Pacific Coast League, playing six seasons. He moved to the NHL at age 31 with the entire Victoria team to become the Detroit Cougars in 1926/27. In all he would score 73 NHL points in 161 games and 193 points in 163 Pacific League games winning a Stanley Cup with both Victoria and the Boston Bruins.

Falcon defenseman Haldor "Slim" Halderson would notch 9 goals in the 3 Olympic games and joined Fredrickson in Victoria. He won a Cup with Victoria as well and played one NHL season split between the Detroit Falcons and Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Falcons beat Czechoslovakia in their first game 15-0 without allowing even one shot on goal. They also beat Sweden 12-1 and the U.S. 2-0 in the defacto gold medal match. The Czechs would be awarded the bronze on the strength of a 1-0 victory over Sweden. Overall the Czechs managed a medal despite being outscored 31-1 in their three games.

In one Olympic match, the U.S defeated Switzerland 29-0 including two goals scored while shorthanded TWO men. President of the International Ice Hockey Federation, 46 year old Max Sillig played for the Swiss becoming the only IOC president to play in an Olympics while holding office.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jakub Ficenec, 2010 Hockey Olympian

Canadian hockey players are not the only ones that play for other countries in the Olympics. Belarus selected the German-born Mikhail Grabovski, Finland's Janne Niskala was born in Sweden, Norway's Juha Kaunismaki was born in Helsinki, Finland and Sweden's third string goalie Stefan Liv was born in Poland. By far, the country with the most non-natives on their squad is Germany.

Ex-San Jose Shark Dmitri Patzold, one of Germany's goalies hails from Kazakhstan. Four Canadians as well play for the Germans, Jason Holland, Travis Mulock, Chris Schmidt and John Tripp. Forward Michael Wolf is from Austria and finally, defenseman Jakub Ficenec hails from the Czech Republic.

Ficenec actually began his North American hockey career playing with the South Surrey Eagles of the BC Junior League in the mid-90's. As a 19 year old in 1996, Ficenec was a team mate of 16 year old Scott Gomez and together they led the Eagles to the Royal Bank Cup final. After Gomez departed the following year, Ficenec would lead the Eagles to the championship while scoring 35 goals and 91 points in 55 games. I had the chance to see four or five Surrey Eagle games in 96/97 and distinctly remember the smooth skating Jakub Ficenec quarterbacking the powerplay.

Undrafted, he signed with the AHL's Portland Pirates in 1998/99 and scored 11 and 10 goals before transferring back to Europe in 2001/02. Ficenec is in his ninth season in the German Elite League and has consistenly been near a point per game defenseman ever since.

This year he has 19 points in 32 games for Ingolstadt.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sven Felski, 2010 Hockey Olympian

I've been researching some of the lesser known names coming to Vancouver for the Olympic hockey tournament, and came across Mr. Sven Felski of Germany. The 35 year old native of Berlin will be making his second Olympic appearance, having played in the '06 Games. The 5'10" 167 pound right winger failed to notch a point in Torino yet has played 129 career international matches for Germany scoring 20 goals with 23 assists.

Felski is currently in his eighteenth consecutive season with the Berlin Polar Bears, beginning his career in 1992/93 as a seventen year old. Felski is the franchise's second highest career scorer with 184 goals and 475 points over 651 games and he's been a German Elite League All-star on five different occaisons.

Throughout his extensive stint with the Polar Bears, Felski has been a team mate to the likes of, Jiri Dopita, Andrei Lomakin, Peter Lee, Tomas Steen, Mike Bullard, Alexander Godynyuk, John Chabot, Olaf Kolzig, Erik Cole and currently Jeff Friesen. An interesting, lengthy career which is winding down with a trip to Vancouver next month.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

2010 Unknown Hockey Olympians

When looking over the hockey rosters of next month's Olympic tournament there are a few nondescript names that need a little more looking at.
To start with, Switzerland will have a few Canadian born players representing them one is Edmonton native Hnat Domenichelli. He was a fourth round pick of the Hartford Whalers in 1994 and helped Canada win a World Junior gold medal in 1996 and also represented Canada in the 2006 Spengler Cup.

Domenichelli scored 148 points for the 95/96 Kamloops Blazers including 59 goals in 62 games and was a big part of the Blazers back-to-back Memorial Cup winners in '94 and '95. He would be traded during his rookie year to Calgary and eventually total 267 NHL games also with Atlanta and Minnesota. Domenichelli tallied 15 goals for Atlants in 2000-01 and was over a point per game scorer in the AHL over 213 games. He went to Switzerland in 2003-04 to play for HC Ambri-Piotta, leading the league in goals in 2006. Currently he is with Lugano and second in league scoring with 53 points to team mate Randy Robitaille's 56.

Another under the radar Olympian is Russia's 29 year old Denis Zaripov. His one taste of North American hockey was with the Swift Current Broncos in 1999 scoring 23 goals, 31 points in 62 games. He has since played in the Russian National League (the last nine years with Kazan Ak-Bars), topping out last year with 65 points in 56 games good for fourth overall. He is joined on the Olympic squad by fellow Kazan-ites Alexei Morozov and defenseman Ilya Nikulin. Nikulin and Konstantin Korneyev of CSKA Moscow are the only two Russian olympic defensemen without NHL experience. Nikulin was a second round pick by Atlanta in 2000 and Korneyev a ninth rounder in 2002 by Montreal.

The last Russian that may be unfamiliar to North American fans is Sergei Zinovjev who played a mere ten games with Boston in 2003-04. The smallish centreman is currently with UFA Salavat in the KHL and has 42 points in 38 games.

Team Sweden is obviously full of familiar names, one that may not ring a bell is Mattias Weinhandl. He is a veteran of 182 NHL games, most recently with Minnesota in 2007. The last two years, he has played with Moscow Dynamo of the KHL and is sitting in fifth place in scoring with 45 points in 41 games. Weinhandl is joined on team Sweden by 35 year old Magnus Johansson, defensman for Linkoping who currently has 38 points in 36 games (sixth overall in the Swedish Elite League). Johansson was a free agent signing by Chicago in 2007 and was traded to Florida halfway through the year, finishing with 14 points in 45 NHL games.

The Czechs are also loaded with familiar names, perhaps the biggest unknown is 24 year old centreman Roman Cervenka (pictured at top). The smallish, undrafted Cervenka is currently running away with the scoring title in the Czech Extraleague. His 58 points in 36 games with Slavia Phraha is 15 points up on second place NHL veteran, Martin Straka. Cervenka may be a surprise centreman for two of the Czechs many talented wingers. Could we possibly see Cervenka playing on a line with Patrik Elias and Jaromir Jagr...

Norway may not have many big names, but ex-Oiler and Flyer Patrick Thoresen is at the moment sixth place in KHL scoring with 44 points in 41 games. His 24 points in 106 NHL games still make him one of the top Norweigan players. The one Finn that may not be recognizable is defenseman Janne Niskala. A fifth round pick by Nashville in 2004, he played 6 games last year for Tampa, notching 3 points. He has 16 points for Vastra Frolunda in the Swedish League this year.
The Olympics is still a showcase for the games top players, but as seen, there will be some names that are breaking through on the international stage for the first time.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Looking back at a miracle

Next month marks the 30th anniversary of one of the greatest underdog victories in sporting history. Of course I speak of the United States hockey team winning gold in the 1980 Olympic games. In looking back through the perspective of time it is truley amazing that this team did.

In winning the gold, the States were up against some solid competition in Sweden, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Finland and especially the Russians. The Swedes were in a somewhat similar predicament as Canada in that many of their better players had turned pro in the NHL and were therefore not eligible for Olympic play. They were without Borje Salming, Kent Nilsson, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson. Canada would undoubtedly have challenged for gold if their pros were eligible but they still had young stars in Glenn Anderson and Paul MacLean and future steady NHL defenders Randy Gregg and Tim Watters.

The Swedes would end up winning a somewhat surprising bronze medal and the co-favourites Czechoslovakia would just as surprisingly slip to a fifth place finish due to losses to Sweden and the US in the preliminary round. The Czechs were missing only Vaclav Nedomansky to the pro ranks yet were still stacked with Milan Novy, Jaroslav Pouzar, Miroslav Frycer, Jiri Bubla and the three Stastny brothers. The 7-3 victory by the US over the Czechs in the second game of the tournament was only the first of the huge upset games.

The States really had only a handful of players who would go on to have successful professional careers led by Mark Johnson, Dave Christian and Neal Broten. On defense there was only Ken Morrow and Mike Ramsey that would have sucess in the pros. This squad, who's elder statesman was Mike Eruzione at 25 years old would beat the Soviets, a team of men, a team of "professional" stars.

The Russians were led by Summit series veterans Boris Mikhailov, Valeri Kharlamov, Alexander Maltsev, Vladimir Petrov, Valery Vasiliev and of course Vladislav Tretiak. To this stellar group coach Viktor Tikhonov added future international and NHL stars Alexei Kasatonov, Slava Fetisov, Sergei Makarov and Vladamir Krutov.
The fact that the US beat this squad of stars was, and is simply amazing. The Russians had just the year before embarassed a team of mostly Canadian NHL All-Stars in the 1979 Challenge Cup. This same Russian squad would just over a year after the '80 Olympics go on to once again embarass Team Canada's professionals in the '81 Canada Cup.
There really could be no equivalent to the USA's surprise gold medal in the upcoming 2010 games as there is no real prohibitive favourite or dominant powerhouse. However, if say Belarus were to beat Canada for the gold medal in a jam packed Canada Hockey House (GM Place), it may very well come close.
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