Hockey: Canada’s Gift to the World
Sunday, 24 August 2008
Originally published in the 2008 IIHF World Championship official program
By Lucas Aykroyd
Back in 1991, only eight national teams competed in the IIHF World Championship. At this year’s tournament in Halifax and Quebec City, there’ll be twice as many. It just goes to show how puck fever is sweeping the planet, and without Canadian input, who knows if this great game would even exist in its present form? No wonder Canada, dubbed “the motherland of hockey” by IIHF president René Fasel, was chosen to host the Worlds for the IIHF’s 100th anniversary.
The IIHF officially acknowledges a March 3, 1875 meeting between two teams at Montreal’s Victoria Skating Rink as the first-ever organized hockey game. But other Canadian cities like Halifax and Kingston also claim to have witnessed some of the earliest matches in the late 19th century. What’s clear is that it didn’t take long for Canadians to start exporting the sport to Europe.
In 1897, Kingston-born figure skater George Meagher decided to spread the wealth around, bringing hockey equipment, a rule book, and coaching instructions to Paris. Meagher organized games between members of the Palais Glace Club and teams from London and Glasgow that knew bandy (similar to hockey, but played with a ball on a larger ice surface). By 1903, Britain had a national league. France followed suit the next year. In 1905, the first-ever official international games in European hockey history took place between Belgium and France. And the race was on.
As Canada dominated the Worlds and Olympics through the early 1950’s, emerging European hockey nations paid close heed. Player-coach Mike Buckna, a native of Trail, BC, was christened the “Father of Czechoslovakian Hockey” for reorganizing that country’s development program in the 1930’s and leading it to gold at the 1947 Worlds, a first for non-North American hockey. Buckna emphasized passing, stickhandling, and skating, and the Russians would also adopt those elements from Czechoslovakia when they took up hockey.
Decades later, Canadian coaches remain in demand with foreign national teams. To name a few recent examples, we’ve seen jobs awarded to Curt Fraser (Belarus), Steve Tsiujira (Japan), Mickey Goulet (Italy), George Kingston (Norway, Germany), and Ralph Krueger (Switzerland).
Even Finland, now a bona fide hockey power, will employ Doug Shedden, an Ontario-born veteran of 416 NHL games, at this year’s tournament. Shedden has coached since 2005 in the Finnish League, whose championship trophy is called the Canada Bowl.
Familiar and less-familiar Canadian names also dot international rosters. Olaf Kolzig (Germany), Paul DiPietro (Switzerland), Stan Reddick (Slovenia), and Jason Muzzatti (Italy) are among those who have performed admirably after gaining European passports.
Meanwhile, as nations like Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland strive to develop more junior talent, they often emulate Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence, which was established in 1982. “To us, it is a sign of respect that so many other countries see what we are doing and want to put similar programs in place,” said Hockey Canada vice-president Johnny Misley.
In 2008, Canada will aim to become the first nation to win World Championship gold on home ice in over 20 years. Regardless of what happens, Canada’s global hockey legacy is secure.