Hockey has been part of every Olympic Winter Games – and even one “Summer Games.” The sport first appeared at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics before making its cold-weather debut four years later at the inaugural Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix. In 1920, teams were permitted a maximum of seven players on the ice at a time and games consisted of two twenty-minute periods. In 1924, six players were allowed per side and games expanded to three 20-minute periods – rules that remain in effect today.
Traditional hockey power Canada won the first four Olympic hockey gold medals (1920, 1924, 1928 and 1932). In 1936, Great Britain was the surprise winner, edging Canada and the U.S. It should be noted, however, that nine of 12 members from the 1936 gold medal team were born in Great Britain, but moved to Canada as children and learned to play the sport there.
Following the cancellation of the Olympic Winter Games in 1940 and 1944 because of World War II, Canada resumed its winning ways by taking two more gold medals, in 1948 and 1952.
Then came the Red Dynasty. From 1956 through 1992, the Soviet Union (including the 1992 Unified Team) won all but two of the Olympic hockey tournaments. The two exceptions are, of course, the two most memorable tournaments for Americans – improbable victories against the Soviets in the 1960 Squaw Valley Games and in the 1980 Lake Placid Games that led to gold medals for the U.S.
Despite Soviet dominance, Canada, with 14, has won more men’s hockey medals than any other nation. The Canadians won six of the first seven tournaments. Until winning silver at the 1992 Albertville Games, the Canadians hadn't won an Olympic medal since a bronze in 1968. They won their first gold since 1952 in Salt Lake, and added their eighth gold in Vancouver.
The United States men have been the best at finishing second, taking the silver medal eight times: 1920, 1924, 1932, 1952, 1956, 1972, 2002 and 2010. The lone American bronze came in 1936. Sweden has won eight medals, most recently a gold in Torino.
The Nagano Games were notable for its inclusion of NHL stars into the Olympics for the first time and for the addition of a women’s tournament. The U.S. defeated Canada in the inaugural women’s gold medal match; Finland won the bronze.
Another notable story in Olympic hockey history was the refusal of both Canada and Sweden to send teams to the Olympics during the 1970s. Following the 1968 Olympics, both nations' hockey federations became incensed by what they felt were unfair amateur restrictions. They were especially upset that the Soviets and Czechoslovakians were able to skirt the rules by offering financial support to their athletes through jobs that required minimal effort, allowing them to train full time. In response to the situation, both nations boycotted one or both of the Olympic hockey tournaments in 1972 and 1976, but participated in 1980 after the boycott failed to succeed in liberalizing IOC eligibility rules. The IOC finally took its first step toward open competition at the 1984 Sarajevo Games. In a confusing decision, the IOC ruled that any player who had signed a contract with a team in the NHL and had played with the team in an NHL game was a professional. It didn't matter if the player had already been paid money or not. By 1987 the IIHF had voted to open the ice hockey competition completely, meaning that players such as Wayne Gretzky were eligible to play in Calgary. Taking its cue from the IIHF on eligibility, the IOC approved the new rules. But until 1998, the NHL blocked its star players from leaving their respective clubs in midseason to play in the Olympics.
1920 Antwerp: Ice hockey made its Olympic debut at, of all places, the 1920 Summer Games. There, the sport was played with seven to a side and games consisted of two 20-minute periods. Canada and the U.S. dominated play, prompting one Swedish newspaperman to write: “every single player on the rink during the Canada-U.S. match was a perfect acrobat on skates…turning sharply with perfect ease and grace.” The European players were also presumably in awe. Gold medalist Canada and the second-place U.S. combined to outscore their opponents 81-3. The most lopsided match of the tournament was the American’s 29-0 defeat of Switzerland. The Americans scored a goal a minute for the first 13 minutes and even scored one goal while playing two men short. Meanwhile, the Canadians allowed just one goal in three games while scoring 29. The Winnipeg Falcons, who had just defeated the University of Toronto for the Canadian national championship, represented Canada in Antwerp. The invitation to the Olympics came on such short notice that the Falcons didn’t have time to return home to Winnipeg. Funds had to be raised to buy the players new clothes for their overseas journey. All of the Canadian players were of Icelandic origin except goalie Wally Byron. The U.S. team, for its part, included four Canadian citizens who played for U.S. clubs: Herbert Drury, Frank Synott and brothers Joseph and Lawrence McCormick.
1924 Chamonix: As it did four years earlier, Canada displayed extraordinary superiority. Heading into the gold medal match, the Canadians had defeated Czechoslovakia, 30-0, Sweden, 22-0, Switzerland, 33-0 and Great Britain, 19-2. The U.S. also handily defeated opponents en route to a berth in the gold medal game – the Americans defeated Belgium, France, Great Britain and Sweden by a combined score of 72-0. In the final, the play between the border rivals was fierce as evidenced by Canada’s Harry Watson being knocked out just 20 seconds into play. Watson recovered, however, and with, with blood in his eyes, scored the first two goals of the game. Canada led 2-1 after the first period, 5-1 after the second and 6-1 by game’s end. One note on the American squad: Its captain, Taffy Abel, was a Chippewa Indian.
1928 St. Moritz: Canada arrived in Switzerland 10 days prior to the Opening Ceremony. When officials saw the Canadians practice they were unnerved by the talent and depth of the North Americans, and were concerned other teams would be outclassed. As a result, the officials came up with an unusual tournament format: Canada advanced directly to the final round while the other ten nations were separated into three pools. The winners of the three pools then joined Canada in the final round. The system was justified – Canada annihilated Sweden, 11-0, Great Britain, 14-0, and Switzerland, 13-0.
1932 Lake Placid Games: In the midst of worldwide Depression, only four nations showed up for the Olympic hockey tournament. Consequently, it was decided that each team would play each other team twice. Canada won its first five games, including a 2-1 victory over the United States. This meant that a win or tie in the second game against America would assure Canada of first place. If the U.S. won then a third match would be needed. The Americans took a 2-1 lead, but with 50 seconds remaining, Romeo Rivers scored on a bouncing puck to tie the score. Three scoreless overtimes later, Canada was declared the gold medalist.
1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen: Canada had never lost an Olympic hockey game heading into its semifinal match-up against Great Britain. That streak was halted, however, when Great Britain’s Edgar Brenchley scored on a rebound in the third period to give his country a 2-1 victory over the powerful Canadians. Great Britain then remained undefeated by surviving a 0-0 triple overtime tie with the U.S. in its final game. Great Britain’s first-place finish marked the first time Canada did not take home the ice hockey gold medal. It must be said, though, that nine of 12 members of the winning team were born in Great Britain, but moved to Canada as children and learned to play ice hockey there. A tenth player, Gordon Dailley, was actually born in Canada and served in the Canadian Army.
1948 St. Moritz: A controversy arose in Switzerland after the United States sent two teams to the Olympic ice hockey tournament. Actually, the controversy began a year earlier, when the International Ice Hockey Federation ruled that the American Hockey Association (AHA) was replacing the Amateur Athletic Union as the governing body for amateur ice hockey in the United States. The head of the American Olympic Committee (AOC), Avery Brundage, accused the AHA of being commercially sponsored and refused to sanction its team, so two teams ended up arriving at the Games. Two days before the Opening Ceremony, the IOC voted to bar both U.S. teams. But the Swiss Organizing Committee siding with the IIHF, defied the IOC and proclaimed that the AHA team would be allowed to play. The AOC team was allowed to take part in the opening parade, while the AHA team watched from the stands. But after that, the AOC team had nothing to do but enjoy its vacation. Meanwhile, the AHA squad played extremely well, beating Poland and Italy by a combined score of 34-5. The AHA head coach defended the outrageous scores, noting that in case of a tie, the team with the highest cumulative scoring margin would be declared the winner. The IOC declared the ice hockey tournament void, but later gave it official approval on the condition that the AHA team not be included in the final standings.
1952 Oslo: Canada eased through its first seven games and then tied the Americans 3-3 in the final to wrap up the gold medal. The Americans were pleased with the tie, since it meant second place rather than fourth. The Norwegian fans, however, were not as happy, upset with the Americans’ rough play – three U.S. players, Joseph Czarnota, Kenneth Yackel and Andre Gambucci, spent more time in the penalty box than the team totals of any of the other eight teams in the tournament. From 1920 through 1952, Canadian ice hockey teams compiled an extraordinary record of 37 wins, one loss and three ties. In those 41 games they scored 403 goals while allowing only 34.
1956 Cortina D’Ampezzo: If the first seven Olympic ice hockey tournaments were symbolized by a Canadian Maple Leaf, the next 10 – with the exception of two U.S. anomalies in 1960 and 1980 – were symbolized by the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union. In Italy, the Soviets entered the Olympic Winter Games for the first time and dominated by winning all seven of their games and outscoring opponents 40-9. (The U.S. was second and Canada was third). The Soviets’ exceptionally skillful style portended the nation’s dominance for the next 36 years, a period in which the Soviets would win eight gold medals, one silver and one bronze.
1960 Squaw Valley: Though later overshadowed by their countrymen’s miraculous victory in 1980, the gold-medal performance of the 1960 U.S. Olympic hockey team still ranks as one of the greatest moments in Winter Olympic history. Never before had the United States won an Olympic hockey gold, and though the Americans had taken the silver at five Olympics, including 1952 and 1956, the squad at Squaw Valley was lightly regarded. After all, at the 1959 World Championships, Team USA finished fourth behind Canada, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. Few doubted that those three teams would take gold, silver and bronze at the 1960 Olympics, in one order or another.
Jack Riley, the head coach at West Point, coached the team. For Riley, pre-Olympic training boiled down to two basic components: conditioning and clean living. There was no smoking and no drinking, but plenty of workouts. "I ran it like basic training," said Riley, who retired as coach of West Point in 1986. "I knew that in order to have a chance against the Russians, we had to out-condition them." As it turned out, Riley also needed several key players. To get Harvard standout Bill Cleary, Riley had to promise that Bill's brother and Harvard teammate, Bob, would also be on the team. As it turned out, both were instrumental to the U.S. team's success. John Mayasich was also high on Riley's list, but prior commitments to his minor league team meant Mayasich didn't join the team until it had arrived in Squaw Valley. Riley had originally left goalie Jack McCartan off the team, but eventually changed his mind. Riley's last cut: Herb Brooks, who would later guide 1980's "Miracle on Ice."
The Americans opened the preliminary round against the rugged Czechoslovaks, surprising everyone with a 7-5 win, and then burst into the championship round with a 12-1 icing of the Australians. Canada, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Sweden and Germany also reached the six-team championship round. Confidence continued to grow on the U.S. bench, as the squad opened the final round with easy wins over Sweden and Germany, the two weakest teams in the field. That brought the U.S. team face to face with the world champion Canadians, who had shut out Germany and Czechoslovakia by a combined score of 16-0 in their first two championship-round games. McCartan closed off the crease to the Canadian forwards and allowed just one of 40 shots to cross the goal line as the U.S. team triumphed, 2-1. In the second period alone, McCartan made 20 saves. Bob Cleary and Paul Johnson scored the U.S. goals, and a capacity crowd of 8,500 was delirious.
Two days later, more than 10,000 jammed into Blyth Arena for the game with the Soviet squad, which an American team had never beaten. They were on their feet in a hurry, too, as Bill Cleary took a pass from brother Bob, darted down the right side and stuffed the puck past Soviet goalie Nikolai Puchkov at 4:04 of the first period. The crowd was quieted, however, by two straight goals in a five-minute span that put the Soviets back on top 2-1, as the first period ended. Midway through the second stanza, Bill Christian, the smallest player on the U.S. team, took a pass from his brother, Roger, and tied the score at 2-2. And then, with a little more than five minutes left, the Christian brothers worked the family magic one more time, as Roger set up Bill for the game-winning score. The Americans would meet the Czechoslovaks again, this time for a chance to win the gold.
The championship game was set for 8 a.m. the next morning. And for two periods, it looked like the Americans had barely woken up; they trailed, 4-3, as they headed for the locker room after the second period. A surprise visitor waited for them there -- Soviet captain Nikolai Sologubov, who had no desire of seeing the Czechoslovaks go home with the gold medal. He reportedly suggested, through gestures mostly, that the Americans should inhale oxygen, and some did. But whether it was the oxygen or the gold medal that spurred them on, the Americans left the Czechoslovaks trying to catch their breath in that third period, scoring six goals -- including three by Roger Christian -- to win the championship, 9-4. The “oxygen” story is still reported that way in newspapers and books, but Riley denies it happened that way.
1964 Innsbruck: After losing to the Americans at Squaw Valley, the Soviet Union resumed its winning ways in Austria, posting a perfect 7-0 record. Despite the Soviets’ record, competition was formidable. If Canada had been able to defeat the U.S.S.R. in its final match, the Canadians would have finished first instead of fourth. Canada even took a 2-1 lead before the Soviets scored two unanswered goals to win 3-2. During a game between Canada and Sweden, Swedish player Karl Oberg bashed the Canadian coach, Father David Bauer, on the head with his stick. Bauer ordered his players not to retaliate. They grudgingly obeyed. The referee was suspended for two games for failing to five Oberg a 10-minute misconduct penalty.
1968 Grenoble: The outcome of the tournament in France was not a foregone conclusion. In fact, the U.S.S.R. had shockingly lost 5-4 to Czechoslovakia early on, which meant the championship hinged on two games: Czechoslovakians versus Swedes and Soviets versus Canadians, all of whom had 5-1 records. A Czechoslovakian win coupled with a Soviet loss would give the gold to Czechoslovakia. But the Czechoslovakians, physically and emotionally spent after their draining victory over the Soviets, fell behind the Swedes early and were only able to salvage a 2-2 tie, eliminating Czechoslovakia’s chance for first place. Therefore, the winner of the Canada-U.S.S.R. game would win the gold medal. The Soviets scored first and then scored often, rolling to a 5-0 victory. The U.S. finished sixth.
1972 Sapporo: The Soviet Union easily defeated Czechoslovakia in the final game to win its fourth gold medal in five Olympics. The U.S. finished second because it had beaten the Czechoslovakians earlier in the tournament. For the first time, Canada did not take part in the Olympic ice hockey tournament. In 1969, the Canadians withdrew from international amateur competition, objecting to having to play against the “professional amateurs” of the U.S.S.R. and other communist nations. Sweden would join the boycott four years later in Innsbruck, but both teams returned for the 1980 tournament.
1976 Innsbruck: Again, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia played for the gold medal. Unlike four years earlier, the Czechoslovakians kept the game close, and were even leading 3-2 during the final period. But within a 24 second span late in the game, the Soviets scored two unanswered goals and secured their fourth consecutive Olympic title. Earlier in the tournament, confusion arose after Czechoslovakia’s captain Frantisek Pospisil was chosen for a random drug test after a victory against Poland. The Czechoslovakian trainer, upon hearing of the test, immediately admitted to giving Pospisil codeine to clear up a viral infection. The IOC expelled Pospisil and ordered the game against Poland to be voided. The final decision regarding the doping incident was delayed until after the final game so not to take away from the drama. The Czechoslovakians remained silver medalists.
1980 Lake Placid: Before the 1980 Olympic hockey tournament, the 20 faces that made up the U.S. team were fairly unknown to the majority of Americans. Sure, the people in Boston knew Jim Craig, Mike Eruzione and Jack O'Callahan; and nary a red-plumed soul in Madison, Wis., couldn't pick out Mark Johnson; and the nine boys from the "U" -- as in University of Minnesota -- were recognizable in downtown Minneapolis; but otherwise, they were just faces. And it seemed they were destined to remain that way after the Soviet Olympic team embarrassed Team USA, 10-3, at Madison Square Garden a few days before the Lake Placid Games began.
Herb Brooks, the coach of the U.S. team, former coach at the University of Minnesota, and firm believer in the European style of hockey, would set a new standard for facial expressions with a cold, hard stare – already familiar to his players. Brooks thought – or maybe hoped – that, if everything went right, if his players were in super shape, if they caught the Soviets being overconfident, the Americans could win.
On February 12, the U.S. team trailed Sweden 2-1 late in the third period. It appeared that Sweden's lead was going to stand up. Goaltender Pelle Lindbergh was sweeping every U.S. opportunity aside, and when a power-play try with six minutes left came up empty, the American team seemed ready to fall. A loss would have put the team in a precarious position for making the medal round. With its first two games against Sweden and Czechoslovakia – the only two teams in its division that were also serious medal threats – the U.S. team neeeded to come away with at least two points (one win or two ties). A loss to Sweden meant the Americans would have to defeat Czechoslovakia, no easy feat.
With about 40 seconds to go, defenseman Bill Baker, who had captained Minnesota to the NCAA championship the year before, was left alone in the center of the ice about 55 feet from Lindbergh. Mark Pavelich dug the puck out of the corner, and threw it to Buzz Schneider along the sideboards. "Buzzy" turned and whipped a pass across to Baker, who unleashed a blistering shot through a screen that tied the game, 2-2. With 27 seconds left, Team USA was celebrating a tie like it had just won the gold medal.
Two nights later, on Valentine's Day, the Americans blasted Czechoslovakia, 7-3. The game was only 2-2 at the end of the first period, but the U.S. team slapped in two unanswered second-period goals and two more to start the third. Schneider scored twice, and Jim Craig had 28 saves to lead the Americans. It was the first time a U.S. national team had defeated Czechoslovakia since the 1972 Sapporo Games.
Mark Johnson, the team's leading scorer, was injured in the game after being hit by Czechoslovakian defenseman Jan Neliba. Feared at first to be a separated shoulder, the injury turned out to be merely a dislocation that had popped back into place. Called "the man who makes us go" by Brooks, Johnson was sore, but he wouldn't miss a game. In the next two games against Norway and Romania, the U.S. team coasted, 5-1 and 7-2, respectively.
West Germany, Team USA's final opponent before the medal round, had beaten the U.S. national team twice at the World Championship the year before. And for 27 minutes, it looked like they still had the Americans' number, leading 2-0. Sweden's 4-2 upset of Czechoslovakia had guaranteed the U.S. team a place in the medal round, so it seemed that the Americans were playing out the string against the Germans. It took two goals from yet another former Gopher, Rob McClanahan, to spur the team on to a 4-2 victory.
Sweden came into the medal round as the first-place finisher in its division because of a better goal differential than the U.S., so the Americans were scheduled to play the Soviets on Friday, February 22, in the first medal game. The Soviets had swept all five of their division games, outscoring opponents 51-11 on the way to first place entering the medal round. Finland, which went 3-2 with losses to the Soviets and the Polish team, took the second division spot and met Sweden on Friday night. Most eyes were on the USA-USSR game.
Before a screaming, standing-room-only crowd, Vladimir Krutov, the new young star on the Soviet squad, scored the game's first goal at 9:12 of the opening period. The Americans bounced back less than five minutes later, however, when Schneider scored his fifth goal of the tournament at 14:03. Again the Soviets went one goal up, when Sergei Makarov converted at 17:34. It appeared the 2-1 lead would hold as the teams went to the locker room. But with only a few seconds left on the clock, Dave Christian, son of Bill Christian of the 1960 gold medal winners, sent a long slap shot in the direction of Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak. Tretiak, one of the finest goalies in Olympic history, sloppily kicked the puck out, and Johnson, streaking down the middle between two Soviet defenders, swooped down on the rebound and slammed it past Tretiak with one second left.
The goal served two purposes: it tied the game; and it inexplicably caused Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov to pull Tretiak from the game. Vladimir Myshkin, the Soviet backup who had actually turned in a much better performance than Tretiak at the tournament, entered the game with that one second left in the first period and played the rest of the way. Tretiak was still upset about the move several years later, claiming the Soviets would have won if he remained in the game. Just 2:18 into the second period, the Soviets went one up one more time, on Aleksandr Maltsev's 10-footer. They continued to dominate for the rest of the period, keeping Craig busy with 12 shots, while Myshkin faced only two. The U.S. team, behind for the third time in the game, had little reason to be upset. After all, no one expected the Americans to be this close to the Soviets, especially after the 10-3 debacle 13 days earlier. Besides, in every game but the one with Romania, the U.S. team had trailed at some point.
In the third period, Krutov had gone off for high-sticking at 6:47, and with just eight seconds left in the penalty, Dave Silk sent a shot toward the Soviet goal. The puck caromed off the skate of defenseman Sergei Starikov and onto the stick of the waiting Johnson, who stuffed it past Myshkin. Eighty-one seconds later, team captain Eruzione, a kid from Winthrop, Mass. who thought Brooks was going to cut him from the team, scored on a 20-foot wrist shot to put the Americans on top to stay.
When the buzzer sounded 10 minutes later, after the U.S. team had skated the Soviets to a crawl while protecting the lead, after Craig had shut down every last opportunity, after broadcaster Al Michaels had counted down to finish off this 4-3 miracle, a team of 20 faces had become a team of 20 names. The hard-staring coach couldn't resist a smile. An entire country, spirits dampened by a hostage crisis in Iran, was bolstered.
There remained the final game with Finland, and the Americans needed a win to clinch the gold. They trailed twice, 1-0 and 2-1, but three straight third-period goals put the Finns away. There was a second celebration, as players threw sticks and gloves into the stands and surrounded Craig, who was draped in an American flag while he searched the stands for his father.
1984 Sarajevo: The miraculous images of 1980 drifted away in Yugoslavia, replaced with Soviet normalcy. The U.S.S.R. overwhelmed its opponents en route to a 7-0 record. The Americans, meanwhile, finished seventh.
1988 Calgary: Heading into the Games, some members of the press forecasted the end of Soviet ice hockey dominance. ‘They’re not the same,’ some wrote. ‘The Soviets are on their way out. As they had done for much of the past three decades, the Soviets cruised to the gold medal. The lone blemish on the U.S.S.R. record was an inconsequential 2-1 loss to the Finns. The U.S. was seventh for the second consecutive Games.
1992 Albertville: The Red Army’s reign over Olympic ice hockey ended in France – sort of. The U.S.S.R. disbanded in 1991 but athletes from the former Soviet Union competed for the Unified Team. Different name, same outcome. The team of ex-Soviets won the gold medal, the last Soviet/Unified/Russian team to do so. In a quarterfinal game between Canada and Germany, the unheralded Germans surprisingly sent the game into sudden death overtime with a late third period goal. No team scored during the 10-minute extra period and the game had to be decided by penalty shots. Canada made its first two shots; Germany made its last two shots. The result was a sudden death shootout. Eric Lindros, now of the Toronto Maple Leafs, shot first for Canada and scored. Peter Draisaitl of Germany was next to shoot. If he scored, the shootout would continue. If he missed, Canada would advance to the semifinals. Draisaitl managed to slide the puck through the legs of Canadian goalie Sean Burke, but Burke managed to slow the puck just enough so that it wobbled and then came to rest on the goal line. According to IIHF rules, a puck must completely cross the goal line to count as a goal. Canada advanced, and went on to win the silver medal. It was the nation’s first Olympic ice hockey medal since 1968.
1994 Lillehammer: Hinted at by media prior to the 1988 Calgary Games, the collapse of the Russian ice hockey dynasty finally took place in Norway. The demise wasn’t so much a result of the Soviet break-up in 1991, as much as it was a by-product of a sports system that could no longer survive Perestroika. Two hundred of Russia’s top players sought employment in other countries, reducing the once-powerful Red Army into a company of loyal athletes. Russia won its first game against Norway, but in its second game, against Finland, the Finns romped to a 5-0 victory. It was the first time a Soviet/Russian/Unified team had ever been shutout in their 70-game Olympic history. In the final, Canada and Sweden were tied after regulation. The teams remained tied during a 10-minute sudden death overtime period. As a result, the gold medal would be decided for the first time by a shoot out. Five players from each time would rush the goalie from center ice and attempt to score. Back and forth, the two teams traded goals. Eventually, a modified sudden death shoot out was needed, with each team taking a shot until one side led. Peter Forsberg scored on Sweden’s second chance, forcing Canada’s hand. Paul Kariya, the shifty Canadian centerman, skated in on Swedish goalie Tommy Salo and wrested the puck toward the top half of the net. Salo, down on the ice, kicked up his leg and knocked the puck away. With that save, Salo and his Swedish teammates won their nation’s first Olympic ice hockey gold medal.
1998 Nagano: In Japan, women’s hockey made its Games debut and men’s hockey saw the inclusion of large amounts of NHL players for the first time in Olympic history. The Czech Republic, which received fine offensive play from Jaromir Jagr and stellar goaltending from Dominik Hasek, defeated Russia, 1-0, in the men’s gold medal game – it was the Czech’s first Olympic hockey gold. (The nation was so overjoyed that the Czech National Theater commissioned an opera called, “Nagano, the Birth of A Legend,” opened on April 8, 2004. Traditionally, Czech operas have librettos based on the nation’s historical moments, but this was the first one about a sports event.) The most exciting action may have come during the Czechs’ 2-1 shootout victory against Canada in the semifinal. Hasek stopped all five of Canada’s shooters, including a spectacular sprawling save on then Philadelphia Flyers center Eric Lindros. Notably, Wayne Gretzky did not participate in the shoot out. America finished in a four-way tie for fifth place while Canada was beaten in the bronze medal game by Finland. The Canadians failed to win a medal for the first time since 1988, and the U.S. was shut out of the medals for the fifth consecutive Games. The Americans’ dismal performance inside Big Hat arena was compounded by their loutish behavior in the Olympic Village. After being eliminated by the Czechs, several American players reportedly returned to their rooms late in the evening and vandalized furniture and fire extinguishers, and caused approximately $3000 in damage.
Meanwhile, rivals Canada and the United States played for the inaugural women’s gold medal. After a scoreless first period, the U.S. netted the game’s first goal when forward Gretchen Ulion converted early in the second period. Forward Shelley Looney then made it 2-0 midway through the third period, and the U.S. never relinquished the lead en route to a 3-1 victory. During the medal ceremony, even the brusque Canadian coach Shannon Miller softened when she saw the gold medals placed around the necks of U.S. players. “There was emptiness after losing,” Miller said. “But when they showed Cammi Granato’s face on the big screen, I had a feeling of joy go through my body because I realized an Olympic gold medal was being hung on a female hockey player, and I couldn’t believe the impact it had on me.” Finland won the first women’s bronze medal.
2002 Salt Lake: Canada, the country where hockey was born, won its first Olympic gold medal in 50 years. The Canadians defeated the U.S. team, once again playing under 1980 "Miracle on Ice" head coach Herb Brooks and riding a 24-game unbeaten streak on Olympic home ice dating back to 1932, 5-2. In the bronze medal game, Russia soundly defeated the surprise of the tournament, Belarus, 7-2. Belarus, which advanced from the preliminary round, was outscored 22-6 en route to losing all of its final round games, but then upset gold-medal contender Sweden in the quarterfinals, eventually finishing fourth.
In the gold-medal game of the women's ice hockey tournament of the Salt Lake Olympics, Canada re-asserted itself as the top nation in the sport, with a 3-2 win over the United States. After losing eight consecutive games to the United States leading up to the 2002 Olympics and taking silver in Nagano, the Canadians - who had won every world championship since the inception of that tournament in 1990 - had one remaining goal - Olympic gold. Canada won all five games it played at the 2002 Games, while the United States went 4-1. The loss was particularly tough for the U.S. to take because of the Americans' success over Canada leading up to the Games.
2006 Torino: The 2006 Olympic Games saw Sweden return to the top in men’s ice hockey. Behind the leadership of veterans Nicklas Lidstrom and Mats Sundin and the goaltending of a rising star Henrik Lundqvist, the Swedes captured their first Olympic gold medal since winning in Lillehammer in 1994. Sweden finished group play 3-2-0 before knocking off Switzerland, the Czech Republic and its Scandinavian neighbor and rival Finland, 3-2, in an unlikely matchup in the gold medal game. Team Canada, stacked with big-name talent like Joe Sakic, Jarome Iginla and goaltender Martin Brodeur, fell in the quarterfinals to Russia, which lost to Czech Republic in the bronze medal game. The United States, led by four-time Olympian Chris Chelios, lost in the quarterfinals, to Finland, after posting only one win in group play.
In the women’s tournament, the biggest upset in the history of women’s hockey prevented a gold medal rematch between the United States and Canada, which had won gold and silver at all 12 world championships since the event's inception in 1990, as well as in the two Olympics since the sport’s inclusion in 1998. Instead, Sweden, reached the gold medal game with a 3-2 shootout victory over the United States, spearheaded by the brilliant play of 19-year-old goalkeeper Kim Martin, who made 37 saves in the game in addition to the four shots faced in the shootout. Canada dominated Sweden, 4-1, in the gold medal game, while the United States salvaged bronze with a 4-0 victory over Finland.
2010 Vancouver: After losing to the Americans in a preliminary round matchup, the Canadians, led by Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, exacted revenge against their rivals in a thrilling rematch in the final. Facing high expectations on their home soil, the Canadian team was able to bounce back after a disappointing 2006 Games in Torino, where they finished seventh. Canada played an impressive tournament and battled to a thrilling 3-2 victory in overtime over the United States to claim the title in the final game and capture their 8th men’s hockey gold medal. “It’s a shame that both teams couldn’t have received a gold medal,” said U.S. coach Ron Wilson. “This was a classic hockey game. In Canada now, it’s the greatest game ever.” In the bronze medal game, Finland defeated Slovakia 5-3 with four goals in the final period. Finland was led by two goals from forward Olli Jokinen and the Finns were able to capitalize on Slovak mistakes during power plays. Prior to the bronze medal game, surprising Slovakia upset Russia in a shootout in the preliminary round and defending champion Sweden in the quarterfinals. Slovakia’s Marian Gaborik snapped Swedish goaltender Henrik Lundqvist’s shutout streak (172 minutes, 34 seconds) that dated back to the gold medal final of the 2006 Games in Torino.
In the women's tournament, Canada continued its Olympic hockey reign on home ice in Vancouver, as the Canadian women won their third straight gold medal at the 2010 tournament. Canada defeated the United States, 2–0, in the final. Canada roared through group play, scoring double-digit goals in each of its preliminary games against Slovakia, Switzerland, and Sweden. Their first game, an 18–0 drubbing of Slovakia, was the most lopsided game in Olympic women’s ice hockey’s short history. Every Canadian skater but one notched at least a point in the historic blowout. In the final, Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados was challenged early by a few great scoring chances for the U.S. in the first period, but it was Canada that broke through with two goals in quick succession right before intermission. Canada would maintain the 2-0 edge for the rest of the game, hanging on to win gold. The United States had some opportunities the rest of the way, including a deflection off the skate of Monique Lamoureux that nearly slipped through the five-hole of Szabados with 13:39 remaining. But the U.S. could only watch as Canada cleared the puck away during the final seconds, sealing the home ice win and a 28-save shutout for Szabados. “I looked up in the stands and saw a sign that said, ‘Proud to be Canadian,’ and that’s what I am today,” she said.
2014 Sochi: For the second consecutive Olympics, the U.S. women were unable to take down Canada in the gold medal game. Team USA had a 2-0 lead late in the third period thanks to goals from Meghan Duggan and Alex Carpenter, but some fortunate puck luck led to a goal from Brianne Jenner with 3:26 remaining in regulation. Then, with less than a minute remaining, Quebec native and Canadian women's hockey legend Marie-Philip Poulin tied the game at two goals apiece to force overtime. Naturally, it was Poulin who scored the game-winner for Canada near the midway point of the OT period, giving Canada its fourth straight women's hockey gold medal at the Olympics.
On the men's side, Canada was once again dominant as they plowed through the competition to win their second consecutive men's hockey gold. It also marked the third time in four Olympics that Canada won the gold medal for both men's and women's hockey. Canada narrowly defeated the United States by a score of 1-0 to advance to the gold medal game, but its offense was far more potent in the final when goals from Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz helped the Canadians take down Sweden by a score of 3-0 to defend their Olympic title.
2018 PyeongChang: PyeongChang was a particularly interesting Olympics for men's hockey. The NHL, after allowing its players to participate in five straight Olympics, opted not to let the players compete in PyeongChang. The NHL's decision proved to be a significant blow to both the U.S. and Canadian teams, as both squads in the several previous Olympics relied heavily on NHL talent to win their medals. On the other end of the spectrum, countries like Russia (competing as OAR in PyeongChang) and Sweden greatly benefited from the NHL's decision as their professional leagues — the KHL and SHL, respectively — still allowed players to compete in the Games. Largely for this reason, OAR unsurprisingly wound up taking the gold medal as former NHLers Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, along with future NHL star Kirill Kaprizov, led the Russian athletes past Germany by a score of 4-3 in overtime to win its first Olympic title in men's hockey since 1988. While OAR won the gold, though, it was the Germans who stole the hearts of many hockey fans watching the Games. With a team mostly comprised of amateur players, the Germans fought their was past the Swedes and Canadians to make it to the final. An impressive feat for any country, let alone a country not known for pumping out elite hockey talent.
In what now has seemingly become an Olympic tradition, USA and Canada met once again in the women's gold medal game. And again, three periods weren't enough to determine the gold medal winner in PyeongChang. This time, it was Team USA coming out on top, giving the American women their first hockey gold medal since Cammi Granato's 1998 squad won the title in Nagano. Sisters Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux were the stars for Team USA in the final. Monique scored the game-tying goal for the U.S. with 6:21 remaining in the third period, and after a scoreless overtime period, Jocelyne pulled off one of the most iconic shootout goals not only in Olympic history, but hockey history altogether. American goaltender Maddie Rooney later stopped Canada's Meghan Agosta in the shootout, cementing the 3-2 victory for Team USA.