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March 25, 2013

Great Moments In Hockey History: Russian Surprise In 1954

There was a time when Canada ruled international hockey almost completely uncontested. From 1920 to 1954 Canada lost only two games of any significance, dropping the 1933 World Championship to USA and the 1936 Olympics to Great Britain.

Heading into the 1954 World Championships Canada appeared poised to roll through to another world title. Who was going to beat them?

The answer - in shocking but emphatic style - was the Soviet Union, who were making their first official appearance in international hockey.

The Soviets had only started playing “Canadian hockey” in 1946, though they had played a similar game in European bandy for years. Just eight years after adopting and studying the Canadian game, the Soviets were set to show the world that they had bettered the game and would defeat the Canadians.

The team featured Nikolai Puchkov in goal as well as Evgeni Babich, Vsevolod Bobrov, Valentin Kuzin, and Nikolai Khlystov. In their first game of the ’54 World Championship, they beat Finland with ease, 7-1. They shut out Norway, 7-0, beat West Germany, 6-2, and beat Switzerland 4-2.

The Russians really served notice that they were indeed for real when they downed the strong Czechoslovakian team by a convincing 5-2 score. Their only blemish on their record would be a 1-1 tie with the host Swedes.

While the Soviets were going through the tournament in surprising fashion, Canada was even more spectacular. Represented by the East York Lyndhursts, Canada won all six of its games by a total score of 57-5. As intriguing as the Soviet team had proven to be, nobody really expected them to beat the Canada in their showdown on the final day of tournament. 

The gold medal showdown did indeed turn out to be a one-sided contest. Only it was the Soviets finishing their shocking debut with a exclamation point. Improbably and impressively the Soviets defeated Canada 7-2 to capture their first World Hockey Championship in their very first try!

In doing so the Soviets also ushered in the modern era of international supremacy while also igniting the most intense rivalry in all of hockey history.

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