Hockey is Canada's national winter game and arguably its greatest contribution to world sport, and this prowess undeniably translates to the Olympic arena as well. Beginning with the gold medal won by the Winnipeg Falcons at the 1920 Olympic Games, Canada (represented by club teams) won six gold medals and one silver medal in seven Olympic appearances between 1920 and 1952. After the gold awarded to the Edmonton Mercurys at the 1952 Olympics, Canada suffered a dry spell until 2002, when both the men’s and women’s hockey teams won gold, thereby securing its original place as a top competitor in the sport.
The 1920 Winnipeg Falcons (Antwerp, Belgium)
The first Olympic hockey tournament actually took place at the 1920 Olympic (Summer)Games. (Although the first Olympic Winter Games were not held until 1924, both ice hockey and figure skating were included in the 1920 Summer Games.) Canada was represented by the Winnipeg Falcons, who won easily, securing gold against the United States with Czechoslovakia winning the bronze. The team (which was almost entirely of Icelandic heritage) included players Bobby Benson, Wally Byron, Frank Fredrickson, Chris Fridfinnson, Mike Goodman, Hallie “Slim” Halderson, Konnie Johanneson and Allan “Huck” Woodman, and was coached by Fred “Steamer” Maxwell and trainer Gordon Sigurjonsson.
The 1924 Toronto Granite Hockey Club (Chamonix, France)
On 8 February 1924, the Toronto Granite Club won Canada’s second Olympic gold medal in ice hockey at Chamonix, France. Led by coach Frank Rankin, the team consisted of Harry Watson, Dunc Munro, Beattie Ramsay, Jack Cameron, Cyril Slater, Ernie Collett, Bert McCaffrey, Reginald Smith and Harold McMunn.
The team won all five of its matches, outscoring its opponents 110 to 3. The closest contest was the gold-medal game, in which Canada defeated the United States 6–1. The ferocity of play was evidenced by injuries sustained by players like Canadian Harry Watson, who was knocked out cold in the first 20 seconds but went on to score two goals later in the game.
The 1928 University of Toronto Grads (St. Moritz, Switzerland)
On 19 February 1928, the Toronto Grads won Canada's third straight Olympic gold medal in hockey, at St. Moritz. It was a formidable team, having won the Allan Cup and being coached in Canada (though not at the Olympics) by Conn Smythe. The Olympic squad consisted of John Porter, Joseph Sullivan, Norbert Mueller, Ross Taylor, Frank Fisher, Roger Plaxton, Hugh Plaxton, Bert Plaxton, Louis Hudson, Dave Trottier, Frank Sullivan, Chas Delahay and Grant Gordon.
Realizing that the Canadian team was far superior to any other in the Games, Swiss Olympic officials made the unusual decision to advance the Canadian team straight to the final round, avoiding the round-robin competition. Though the tournament organizers tried to arrange the tournament to provide some challenge to the Canadians, the Grads still outplayed the Swedes 11–0, Great Britain 14–0 and the host Swiss 13–0. After their gold medal performance the team toured Europe, introducing large crowds to their exceptional talent and speed on ice.
The 1932 Winnipeg Hockey Team (Lake Placid, New York)
Canada was represented at the 1932 Olympics mainly by members of the Winnipeg hockey club, the "Winnipeggers," and two additional members chosen by the Canadian Olympic Association, powerhouse offensive players Walter Monson and Bert Duncanson. Managed by the legendary Lou Marsh, additional team members consisted of William Cockburn, Stanley Wagner, Roy Hinkel, Hugh Sutherland, George Garbutt, Walter Monson, Harold Simpson, Romeo Rivers, Aliston Wise, Clifford Crowley, Victor Lindquist, Norm Malloy, and Kenneth Moore. A first in Olympic history, some games were played indoors.
Canada's hockey team faced serious competition for the first time at these Olympics. Because of the worldwide depression, only four teams played at the Olympics that year — Canada, Germany, Poland and the United States. The four teams faced off in a double round-robin tournament, with the Canadian team ultimately playing two scoreless overtime periods against the United States on 13 February. To end the stalemate, officials chose to declare a tie and award the gold to the team that had won the earlier round-robin game, Canada. The US settled for silver and Germany won bronze.
The 1936 team, the Port Arthur Bearcats, was unable to repeat the Winnipeggers' performance and win gold, settling for silver against Great Britain with the US taking bronze. It was the first time in Winter Olympic history that Canada did not win gold.
The 1948 RCAF Flyers (St. Moritz, Switzerland)
Prior to the Olympics at St. Moritz Canada had been in conflict with the International Ice Hockey Federation over the eligibility of the United States and its team consisting of both amateur and professional players. As a result, Canada did not have a team to send to the Olympics until the Royal Canadian Air Force volunteered its athletes from across the country. Hockey legends Georges Boucher and his son Frank Boucher whipped a lacklustre group of nonetheless distinguished servicemen into a cohesive team, consisting of André LaPerrière, Hubert Brooks, Andy Gilpin, Ted Hibberd, Sydney Dawes, Irving Taylor, Wally Halder, George Mara, Murray Dowey, George McFaul, Sandy Watson, Roy Forbes, Orval Gravelle, Reg Schroeter, Ab Renaud, Patsy Guzzo, Louis Lecompte, and Frank Dunster.
The Olympic tournament consisted of nine teams playing in round-robin competition, and ultimately Canada won seven of the eight games it played, with the eighth game ending in a 0–0 tie against the Czech team. In their final game Canada overcame slushy ice conditions to defeat the Swiss 3–0 and thereby take the gold from Czechoslovakia on 8 February 1948. Switzerland won the bronze.
The 1952 Edmonton Mercurys (Oslo, Norway)
The Edmonton Mercurys won the gold medal in hockey at the Winter Olympic Games in Oslo on 24 February 1952. The Edmonton Mercurys, one of the last Canadian teams to consist of amateur hockey players, was the sixth gold medal team in seven Olympic showings by Canadian hockey teams. The squad, headed by coach Lou Holmes, consisted of Frank Sullivan, John Davies, Bob Dickson, Bob Meyers, Bill Gibson, Ralph Hansch, Bob Watt, Eric Paterson, George Abel, Gord Robertson, Bill Dawe, Louis Secco, Al Purvis, Dave Miller, Don Gauf, Gord Stagryn and Tom Pollock.
The Mercurys won the first three games by a combined score of 39–4, but were challenged by the Czechs and the Swedes. A 3–3 tie with the United States (who had lost to Sweden) on 24 February was good enough for gold. The US received silver and Sweden the bronze, with the Soviet news agency Tass arguing that the final game between Canada and the US was fixed so that Czechoslovakia could not finish second. The game was the end of the era of Canadian dominance in amateur hockey, as the Canadians would not win hockey Olympic gold again for 50 years.
Transition and Growth
As Canada's gold medal hopes faded away in the years following 1952, so did the concept of having single teams represent the entire country in Olympic competition. The line also became increasingly blurred between professional and amateur players and the extent, if any, to which the former should be allowed into Olympic competition. Canada's slump continued into 1956 when the Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen won bronze behind the Soviet Union (gold) and the US (silver), its worst Olympic showing to that time. The Dutchmen followed it with a silver against the US at the 1960 Games.
In 1962 Father David Bauer gained the approval of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association for the concept of a Canadian Olympic hockey team. Bauer had coached the St. Michael's (Toronto) Majors to the 1961 Memorial Cup championship. In September 1963, a group of university players began training under his direction at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. This team suffered only two narrow defeats, to the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, at the 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, but placed fourth.
In 1965, a permanent national team was established in Winnipeg. Coached by Jackie MacLeod and managed by Father Bauer, it won the bronze medal in the 1968 Olympic Winter Games at Grenoble, France. As a result of disagreements with the International Ice Hockey Federation over the use of professionals at world championships, Canada withdrew from international amateur hockey entirely and did not send a team to the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Winter Games. Father Bauer participated in the revival of the Canadian team for the 1980 Games at Lake Placid, New York, where the team was defeated by the Soviet Union, Finland and Czechoslovakia to finish out of the medals.
At Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, in 1984, and at Calgary in 1988, Canada finished fourth. Coached by Dave King again in 1992 at Albertville, the team finished with silver — Canada's first Olympic hockey medal since 1968. Team Canada repeated its silver medal performance at Lillehammer in 1994.
At the 1998 Nagano Olympic Winter Games, professional players from the NHL were finally permitted to participate. The amateur players, who had recently won silver medals for Canada, would no longer have the opportunity to compete, but the tournament promised the best hockey in Olympic history. Canada's loss to the US at the World Cup in 1996 had spurred new strategies for the upcoming Olympics. The great stars that had once brought international glory to Canada were past their prime: Mario Lemieux was already retired, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier were winding down. The decision to let younger players emerge — Gretzky would not be captain, Messier would not play — brought controversy even before the tournament began. The team lost its bid for gold in a 2-1 shoot-out with the Czech Republic, and finished out of the medals.
A second milestone at the Nagano Olympics was the inclusion of women's hockey. The Canadian team was favoured to win. Since the inauguration of the women's World Cup championship in 1990, Canadian women had placed first every time the tournament had been played. Yet, in a disappointing 3–1 loss to the US in the final game, the team was forced to settle for silver.
The 2002 Hockey Teams (Salt Lake, Utah)
Canada finally ended its 50-year losing streak at Salt Lake in 2002 when both its men's and women's teams won gold. It was the newly created women's Olympic squad who claimed status as the first team to win when on 21 February they defeated the United States 3–2. In a reversal of the circumstances at the Nagano games, when the Canadian women were heavily favoured to win, but lost, Canada came to Salt Lake with a recent 0–8 pre-Olympic record against the US. Focused, intense, and fired up by rumours that the Americans had abused the Canadian flag on their dressing-room floor, the Canadians prevailed 3–2 despite an endless stream of penalties called by the American referee. As part of Olympic lore, many credit Canada's "lucky loonie," planted by Edmonton icemaker Trent Evans at centre ice, as the lucky charm that finally broke the losing streak. The winning women's team consisted of Dana Antal, Kelly Béchard, Jennifer Botterill, Thérèse Brisson, Cassie Campbell, Isabelle Chartrand, Lori Dupuis, Danielle Goyette, Geraldine Heaney, Jayna Hefford, Becky Kellar, Caroline Ouellette, Cherie Piper, Cheryl Pounder, Tammy Lee Shewchuk, Sami Jo Small, Colleen Sostorics, Kim St-Pierre, Vicky Sunohara, and Hayley Wickenheiser.
The women's win was followed by that of the men, who captured gold on the 50th anniversary of the Edmonton Mercurys' win at Oslo in 1952 on the same day, 24 February. Sporting a replica of the crest of the first-ever official Olympic hockey team — the 1924 Toronto Granites — on their shoulders, the team consisted of Rob Blake, Eric Brewer, Martin Brodeur, Theo Fleury, Adam Foote, Simon Gagné, Jarome Iginla, Curtis Joseph, Ed Jovanovski, Paul Kariya, Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros, Al MacInnis, Scott Niedermeyer, Joe Nieuwendyk, Owen Nolan, Mike Peca, Chris Pronger, Joe Sakic, Brendan Shanahan, Ryan Smyth and Steve Yzerman.
Managed by hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and coached by the Toronto Maple Leafs' Pat Quinn, the men did not claim victory easily since there were at least five other teams with legitimate chances to win gold. The team's performance in the preliminary round did not inspire confidence in the media or among fans, as Canada lost to Sweden 5–2, eked out a 3–2 victory over a weak German team, and then tied the Czechs 3–3. In the quarterfinal game against the Finns, who had beaten the Russians, Canada took a 2–0 lead and held on to win 2–1. Confidence grew as Canada had outplayed the Finns, and its route to the gold medal game opened fortuitously when goalie Tommy Salo allowed a fluke goal and Belarus defeated Sweden. Canada beat Belarus easily, 7–1, and in a close final contest against the US, the Canadians prevailed 5–2.
The 2006 Hockey Teams (Turin, Italy)
Canada's men's team did not repeat their gold medal performance at the Torino Olympics in 2006. In all, 12 teams were seeded into round-robin pools, with Canada considered one of the best. Consisting of the cream of the NHL, players with more than 320 goals among them to that point in the season, the team suddenly lost its touch and direction and went out in the quarter final round, settling for a disappointing seventh place with Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic winning gold, silver and bronze respectively.
It was the Canadian women's team that emerged victorious once again in 2006. The team, coached by Melody Davidson, consisted of Meghan Agosta, Gillian Apps, Jennifer Botterill, Cassie Campbell, Delaney Collins, Gillian Ferrari, Danielle Goyette, Jayna Hefford, Becky Kellar, Gina Kingsbury, Charline Labonté, Carla MacLeod, Caroline Ouellette, Cheryl Pounder, Cherie Piper, Kim St-Pierre, Sami Jo Small, Colleen Sostorics, Vicky Sunohara, Sarah Vaillancourt, Katie Weatherston and Hayley Wickenheiser. Canada and the US were again widely considered to be the gold and silver medal contenders, but Sweden managed to eke out a win against the US to play the final match with Canada, in which Canada won gold with a 4–1 victory. It was the first time that both Canada and US had faced other serious contenders in international women's hockey.
The 2010 Hockey Teams (Vancouver, BC)
In late 2009 the men's team was selected from a highly successful group of Canadian NHL players. Managed by the legendary Steve Yzerman, and coached by Mike Babcock, the team consisted of goaltenders Roberto Luongo, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Martin Brodeur; defencemen Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Brent Seabrook, Drew Doughty, Chris Pronger, Dan Boyle, and Scott Niedermayer; and forwards Brenden Morrow, Patrick Marleau, Jarome Iginla, Dany Heatley, Jonathan Toews, Michael Richards, Joe Thornton, Eric Staal, Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf, Rick Nash and Sidney Crosby. The tournament began on 16 February with Canada defeating Norway 8–0. Canada went on to defeat the Swiss 3–2 but were defeated by the US in the final preliminary round game. Deflated by their strongest rival, winning the quarterfinal round was crucial to the team's advancement to the gold medal round. In a renewed effort, which included replacing goalie Brodeur with Roberto Luongo and adjusting several lines, the team was able to secure a berth in the quarterfinal with a score of 8–2 against Germany. They defeated Russia in the quarterfinal (7–3) and Slovakia in the semifinal (3–2), subsequently advancing to the final round and leaving Finland to take the bronze against Slovakia. The media hype leading up to the final gold medal game on 28 February focused on the American team’s attempt to repeat their gold medal victory on the 30th anniversary of their "miracle on ice" win against the Soviet Union at Lake Placid in 1980. In one of the most closely contested games in Olympic history, Canada defeated the US 3–2 in overtime when centre Sidney Crosby, assisted by Jarome Iginla, scored against US goalie Ryan Miller. Crosby's goal is considered one of the greatest in the history of Canadian hockey.
As in 2002 and 2006, Canada's women's team dominated Olympic competition on its way to the gold medal against the United States on 25 February. Coached once again by Melody Davidson, the slightly younger team consisted of goaltenders Shannon Szabados, Charline Labonte and Kim St-Pierre; defencemen Carla MacLeod, Becky Kellar, Colleen Sostorics, Meaghan Mikkelson, Catherine Ward, and Tessa Bonhomme; and forwards Meghan Agosta, Rebecca Johnston, Cherie Piper, Gillian Apps, Caroline Ouellette, Jayna Hefford, Jennifer Botterill, Haley Irwin, Hayley Wickenheiser, Sarah Vaillancourt, Gina Kingsbury, and Marie-Philip Poulin. The women began the tournament with a shutout against Slovakia (18–0), and went on to defeat the Swiss (10–1), Sweden (13–1), and Finland (5–0). In the gold medal match the women once against shut out their opponent, the US, with a score of 2–0, winning their third Olympic gold in as many showings. Finland won the bronze. The Canadian team was later chastised by the media for taking its victory party on to the ice after the fans had left the building.
The 2014 Hockey Teams (Sochi, Russia)
For the second consecutive Olympic Winter Games, Team Canada finished on top of the podium in men’s and women’s hockey. For the women, it was their fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal.
The women’s national hockey team faced adversity leading up to Sochi. Only two months before the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, head coach Dan Church mysteriously resigned and was replaced by former NHL veteran Kevin Dineen, who had coached the Florida Panthers before being let go in November. The Canadian team was also struggling as a unit, having lost four consecutive exhibition games to the United States in December.
In the round robin, the Canadian women defeated Switzerland 5–0 and Finland 3–0 before an emotional 3–2 victory over the United States in which Meghan Agosta-Marciano scored twice on her birthday. Team Canada then defeated Switzerland 3–1 in the semi-final and outshot Switzerland by a margin of 48–22. In the gold medal game, Canada was trailing 2–0 to the United States when, with just over three minutes left, Brianne Jenner scored against American goaltender Jessie Vetter. Marie-Philip Poulin delivered the magic game-tying goal with 55 seconds left in regulation followed by the game-winning goal during an overtime power play. Commentators remarked that the gold medal game could be considered the best women’s hockey game ever played.
The Canadian men also went through the round robin undefeated by beating Norway 3–1, Austria 6–0 and Finland 2–1 (the last won in overtime by a goal from defenceman Drew Doughty). However, commentators were concerned by the seeming lack of offensive play by Canadian forwards such as Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, Jonathan Toews and John Tavares, who had scored zero goals during round-robin play. The concerns magnified in the quarterfinals, where despite the fact that Team Canada outshot Latvia 57–16, they only advanced to the semi-finals with a narrow 2–1 victory.
Head coach Mike Babcock, however, was very pleased with Canada’s defensive play. As a unit, the team had only given up three goals in four games to this point. In the semifinal, Canada shut down the United States (who had scored 20 Olympic goals compared to Canada’s 13) by a score of 1–0, and then overpowered Sweden 3–0 in the gold medal game. Canadian fans finally got to see Crosby and Toews score in the Olympic hockey tournament, but had to wait for the final game to do so. Toews scored the game winner in the gold medal game at 12:55 of the first period, with Crosby scoring an insurance goal on the breakaway at 15:43 of the second period.
2018 Olympic Hockey Teams (PyeongChang, South Korea)
At the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, the women’s hockey team won silver and the men’s hockey team won bronze. It was the first time since the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano that Team Canada did not win Olympic gold in hockey.
In women’s hockey, Canada and the United States were the favourites for gold once again at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang (although Finland was also considered a contender, having beaten Canada 4–3 at the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship). The United States had defeated Canada and taken the gold medal at the last four world championships and the 2017 4 Nations Cup, but expectations were high for Team Canada after defeating the United States in five of six games in a pre-Olympic exhibition series.
At the 2018 Games, Team Canada went through Group A action unbeaten, with a 5–0 win against the Olympic Athletes from Russia, a 4–1 win against Finland and a 2–1 win against the United States. The team had great depth, particularly in goal. Head coach Laura Schuler used all three goaltenders in pool play, with Ann-Renée Desbiens, Shannon Szabados and Geneviève Lacasse recording wins.
In the semifinal, Canada defeated the Olympic Athletes from Russia 5–0. Szabados recorded a 14-save shutout, while Jennifer Wakefield scored two of Canada’s goals. The win set up a gold-medal game with the United States, which, like Canada, had gone undefeated after beating Finland 5–0 in the other semifinal.
In the gold-medal game, the United States took a 1–0 lead, with 25 seconds left in the first period on a goal by veteran Hilary Knight. Canada bounced back with two second-period goals by Haley Irwin and Marie-Philip Poulin to take a 2–1 lead. The Americans tied the game at two, with 6:21 left in the third period, and then won the game 3–2 in a shootout. The loss ended Canada’s 24-game winning streak in Olympic women’s hockey, an Olympic record.
It was the fourth straight Olympic medal for Canadian forward Meghan Agosta. A probationary constable with the Vancouver Police Department, Agosta took a leave of absence for a year so that she could play in the 2018 Olympic Games. Teammate Mélodie Daoust was named the tournament’s most valuable player. Daoust led Canada in scoring with seven points (three goals and four assists) and was the third-highest scorer in the tournament, behind Alina Muller of Switzerland (10 points) and Christine Meier of Switzerland (eight points). Daoust and defenceman Laura Fortino were also named to the tournament’s all-star team. Szabados was named the tournament’s top goaltender, with a save percentage of .949 (75 saves on 79 shots).
For the first time since the 1994 Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, the National Hockey League (NHL) decided not to suspend its regular season to allow its best players to participate in the Olympic Winter Games. The NHL argued that Olympic participation was too disruptive to the regular season and that owners were concerned about serious injuries that had occurred at the 2014 Games. In addition, the NHL expressed concern that insurance costs, which were to be paid by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), might be taken out of its budget, which was dedicated to growing hockey at the grassroots level. The NHL Players’ Association adamantly opposed the NHL’s decision, but none of the players risked suspension from the league to play for their home country in PyeongChang.
The decision, announced on 3 April 2017, wasn’t surprising, as the league had expressed serious concerns about participating in PyeongChang before the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. Hockey Canada had developed a contingency plan prior to the announcement and used its resources to scout players throughout North America and Europe. Unlike the Canadian national teams from 1980 to 1994, which included young players on the brink of prominent NHL careers, the 2018 men’s hockey team had an average age of 31 and included many former NHL players who were playing professionally in Europe.
The Olympic men’s hockey team went through preliminary-round Group A action, with wins against Switzerland (5–1) and South Korea (4–0) and a shootout loss to the Czech Republic (3–2). Although Canada didn’t win Group A, it got a bye to the quarterfinals, as it had the best tournament record among all teams that didn’t win their pool. In the quarterfinals, Canada defeated Finland 1–0 with a third-period goal by Maxim Noreau and a 21-save shutout by goaltenders Ben Scrivens and Kevin Poulin. Scrivens suffered an upper-body injury in the second period and was out for the rest of the Olympic tournament.
Canada’s opponent in the semifinals was Germany, which stunned Sweden 4–3 in the quarterfinals. The Germans delivered another huge upset against Canada, defeating them for the first time in 16 Olympic games over a period of 86 years. The Canadian team had many defensive lapses in the second period, when they were outscored 3–1. Despite outshooting Germany 15–1 in the third period, Canada lost the game 4–3. The team faced the Czech Republic in the bronze-medal game, where former NHL players Andrew Ebbett and Chris Kelly scored twice each in a 6–4 win by Canada. (In the gold-medal game, the Olympic Athletes from Russia beat Germany 4–3 in overtime.)
Defenceman Maxim Noreau was the lone Canadian to be named to the Olympic tournament men’s All-Star Team. Noreau led all defencemen in the tournament in points with seven (two goals and five assists) and was tied with Derek Roy for the most points on Team Canada.