USSR assume Canada’s ice hockey crown
Ice hockey was always a highly popular sport in the Soviet Union. During the 1950s, a terrific crop of players began to emerge, in tandem with their country’s appearance on the international hockey stage. Their major breakthrough came at the 1954 IIHF World Ice Hockey Championships in Stockholm (SWE), where they sensationally won all of their matches, including an astonishing 7-2 defeat of Canada (7-2) en route to the first of their 22 world titles.
During the first half of the 20th century, the Olympic tournament had been consistently and brilliantly dominated by the Canadians. In Cortina, they were represented by the Kitchener-Waterloo Flying Dutchmen hockey club, who had earned that right by winning the 1955 national amateur championship, the Allan Cup. They were defending an extremely impressive Canadian record of 37 wins, three draws, one defeat, 403 goals scored, 34 goals conceded, six gold medals and one silver medal since 1920.
The Soviet team, meanwhile, were taking part in their first Olympic Winter Games, but their disciplined and talented squad boasted a fine vein of form the World Championships. Led by the superb Vsevolod Bobrov, who had previously played as a striker at the men’s Olympic football tournament in 1952 in Helsinki and who would top the scoring charts for the Soviet team on the ice in Cortina, they blew away their competition on the open-air rinks in the Olympic Stadium and Appolonio Stadium between 26 January and 4 February.
The IHHF had decided that the hockey tournament at Cortina d’Ampezzo 1956 would double as the World and European Championships for that year. It consisted of a first round of three groups of three or four teams, with the top two advancing to compete for the medals in a final pool of six.
The USSR breezed through the first round, defeating Sweden (5-1) and Switzerland (10-3) in Group C, as did Canada in Group A, who beat Germany 4-0, Austria 23-0 and Italy 3-1. In Group B, Czechoslovakia relegated the USA to second place after getting the better of their head-to-head by four goals to three.
In the final round, the Soviet team, with defenceman Nikolaï Sologubov on excellent form, overcame Sweden (4-1), Germany (8-0) and Czechoslovakia (7-4), before ensuring themselves of the gold medal – and the world and European titles – by seeing off the USA (4-0) and Canada (2-0). The Americans’ defeat of Canada (4-1) saw them earn the silver medal, leaving their opponents with bronze.
This triumph triggered a long period of Soviet domination at the Olympic Winter Games, until the break-up of the country in the early 1990s. Their eight titles, acquired at Innsbruck 1964, Grenoble 1968, Sapporo 1972, Innsbruck 1976, Sarajevo 1984, Calgary 1988 and Albertville 1992 (as the “Unified Team”), would only be bettered by Canada at Sochi 2014. Even at the Games where they did not emerge victorious, they still appeared on the Olympic podium, finishing third at Squaw Valley 1960 and second at Lake Placid 1980.