Ice hockey has been played at every edition of the Olympic Winter Games – and even featured on the Summer Games programme in 1920. Women’s ice hockey made its Olympic debut in Nagano in 1998, when professional men’s players from North America’s National Hockey League also participated for the first time.
Athletes to watch in Sochi
Hosts Russia will be hoping that star players Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin can lead them to men’s Olympic gold and atone for the disappointment of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, when the side was eliminated at the quarter-final stage. Defending champions Canada are sure to feature strongly again, with Sidney Crosby set to shine on the Olympic stage once more, assisted by the likes of Corey Perry, John Tavares and Duncan Keith.
In the women’s tournament, star forwards Jenn Wakefield and Marie-Philip Poulin – who scored both goals in the 2010 Olympic final – will head Canada’s charge for a fourth successive gold, although reigning world champions USA, led by captain Julie Chu and forward Brianna Decker, will be eager to claim their first Olympic title since Nagano in 1998.
In Sochi, the men’s event features three pools of four teams, with the three group winners and the second-placed team with the best record advancing straight to the quarter-finals. The remaining eight teams will then play in qualification playoff games, with the four winners progressing to the knockout stages.
The women’s competition will consist of two pools of four, with only six teams reaching the finals stage. The preliminary round will take place in two tiers, with Group A featuring teams ranked 1-4, while Group B will comprise teams ranked 5-8. All four teams from Group A will progress to the next stage, with only the top two teams from Group B making it through. The third and fourth-placed teams in Group A will then play the second and first teams from Group B respectively.
From 1920 to 1952, Canada dominated the men's tournament, winning six gold and one silver medal, but from 1956 it was the Soviet Union who ruled the podium, claiming nine straight Olympic medals, including seven gold. During that time, goaltender Vladislav Tretiak was one of their most consistent performers, starring in four successive Games and winning three gold and one silver medal. Soviets Anatoli Firsov, Victor Kuzkin, Andrei Khomutov, Alexander Ragulin and Vitaly Davydov also each have three Olympic gold medals to their names.
Perhaps the most celebrated game in Olympic history came in Lake Placid in 1980, when underdogs USA beat the heavily-fancied Soviet Union to the gold medal thanks to a thrilling 4-3 victory. The Vancouver 2010 Olympic final was no less dramatic, with hosts Canada enjoying a fairy-tale ending to the men’s tournament as Sidney Crosby scored the gold medal-winning goal seven minutes and 40 seconds into overtime to secure a 3-2 win over the USA.
While the USA won the first women's ice hockey gold medal in 1998, Canada have dominated the Olympic tournaments since then, winning three successive golds, with Jennifer Botterill and Jayna Hefford among those to have starred for the Canadian team.
Watch the best scenes from the men's ice hockey final from Vancouver 2010