Tracking the first Olympic hockey tournament 0
Seldom have the Olympic Games caused such a stir as the current classic being hosted by the city of Vancouver.
It seems that 2009 had barely jump started when every form of media was challenging readers, viewers, and listeners to gear up for the 2010 XXI Olympiad.
Even though skiing, speed skating, curling, and figure skating capture imaginations over the course of the competitions; somehow, for hockey-mad Canada, our "National Sport" holds a priority interest.
This year the Land of the Maple Leaf is entering its 19th Olympic hockey tournament.
Canada withdrew from competition in 1972 and 1976 in protest over professionals being disallowed to participate, when other countries, particularly the Soviet Union, utilized national squads who were paid by the state to represent their countries in international play.
While the International Olympic Committee failed to recognize it for decades, our country's first ice hockey competition at this level took place in 1920. Strangely enough, the tournament was part of the summer games, rather than what would have seemed to have been the more appropriate designation.
In essence, the competition was an afterthought. The powers-that-be wished to include figure skating in the winter games warm weather-counterpart. However, the management of the Palais de Glace (Ice Place) in Antwerp, Belgium, refused to surrender the use of their facility unless hockey was included in the April programme. The IOC had no choice but to knuckle under. But it meant that countries wishing to participate were not notified until mid-January, giving an extremely short period of time for preparation.
Initially, Canada entertained the idea of sending an "All Star" squad-but quickly decided on the top amateur club in the Dominion-AKA the Allan Cup champions. Quite amazingly that turned out to the Winnipeg Falcons, a contingent of Icelandic players, who, when they first organized a team in 1911, were rejected by local leagues due to racial prejudice.
But by 1919-20 they captured the Western Canada title, disposing of Selkirk and Fort William, then besting the University of Toronto Varsity sextet, to earn the national honour described above. They had managed the feat in the Queen City, and didn't even have time to return home for an appropriate reception or to pack their toothbrushes, before being dispatched to St. John's, N.B., the port from which they left for Europe. The Canadian Amateur Hockey Association budgeted a whopping $25 per player with which to outfit themselves.
They sailed from the east coast on April 3rd , with the expectation of commencing the tournament on the 10th. But out of the blue the contests were postponed for two weeks, putting the Manitobans in limbo for 14 days. Fortunately, Mr. W.A. Hewitt (father of the famous Foster), Sports Editor of the Toronto Star, and Secretary of the Ontario Hockey Association, who was in charge of the troupe, quickly made arrangements for that spare time to be enjoyed. They spent four days in London, England, before continuing on their journey to Belgium, where they arrived on the 16th.
Their plan was to practice the very next day, but for some reason the Belgium customs held up the arrival of their equipment. So they got their bearings, first by checking out the Ice Palace where they would be competing. To say the least they were in for a shock. The artificial ice surface, designed for figure skating, was a mere 165 feet long and 58 and-a-half feet wide-rather restrictive, since seven-man shinny was to be the order of the day. The boards were paneled, making it impossible to play the puck off them, and netting surrounded the entire playing area. Although adaptations were made, original seating was for 800-including accommodations for the elite at one end, complete with dining facilities, and an orchestra "pit". The nets were described as "resembling folding gates", and were fastened to the ice with small nails.
They also watched the Swedish team practice. They were amazed to see them using short curved bats and a rubber ball rather than a puck-which, by the way, the Scandinavians found to be quite novel. Their coach had once played with St. Nicholas in New York City. He had purchased all the Canadian sticks available locally, and sought to buy the Falcon's equipment to take back to his homeland. While the goalie sported cricket pads, and a kind of heavy leather apron, the skaters used only soccer shin pads under knee socks, often playing with bare knees exposed. Few gloves of any kind were in evidence.
On the 18th, the Canadian teams played an exhibition match, utilizing a split squad, including subs and supporting cast, in order to raise money for charity-as well as to demonstrate the game for the other nations-many of whom were unfamiliar with the rudiments of the game.
On the 23rd the host country took on the Swede's in the initial contest. The visitors won 8-0, but gained disfavour on the part of all who watched because of their roughhouse tactics. They were more interested in flattening their opponents than bulging the twine. Mr. Hewitt, who was referee for that match, stopped the game and ordered them to "play the game the way it was intended to be played!" Their response was that they didn't know how Canadians played; they just knew that's how they played!
The Falcon's first competition was the next day against the Czechs. Like the Swedes, the Slovaks looked like they were prepared for soccer more than hockey. They ran on their skates and were awkward in their attempts at shooting. They also slashed the Canadians a lot. But the Icelanders refused to retaliate, receiving no penalties, while potting 15 goals along the way. There was not a single shot on the Canadian goal.
Unable to utilize their speed any other way on the narrow surface, they rushed in tandem-two forwards followed by two more forwards. Mike Goodman, who was the reigning North American men's speed skating champion, dashed around so quickly, observers were certain his skate boots were somehow enhanced. Several offered $100. for his blades that they might copy the design.
The team from the USA was next in line on the 25th. The Falcons knew this would be their most serious challenge since half of the American contingent was Canadian-born. As well, they had proved their ilk by swamping the Swiss club 29-0 on the 24th. Our gang was amazed at the support by representatives of the other nations, when they lined up against their North American neighbours. Herb Drury, who later starred for Pittsburgh of the NHL, spent the entire hard fought match shadowing the speedy Goodman. But experience prevailed, and the Falcons won, 2-0.
The championship game on the 26th was indeed the grand finale-not so much because the Canucks defeated the Swedes 12-1 to capture the gold-but because of the hoopla connected with the tilt. Three hours before the face-off, crowds clamoured to find a way to gain admission to watch the game. Only one-tenth of the hopefuls found accommodation. It was necessary for soldiers to guard every entrance, and to accompany the skaters to their dressing rooms. Fans, including gentlemen in evening dress, appealed to the Canadian players to allow them to carry their skates and sticks, which would enable them to accompany them inside.
A band played "O Canada" before and after the match, and while the Falcons, in their yellow and black jerseys, skated into pre-game formation. A few pro-Canadian fans armed with megaphones led the charge, as virtually the entire crowd chanted, "Canada! Canada!", over and over again!
Apparently they were rewarding our lads not only for the display of their on-ice skills, but for their actions as good-will ambassadors. Previous to each contest they actually spent time coaching and tutoring their opponents on the fine points of hockey.
Very little was mentioned about the Swiss and the French teams. The former were the least talented, displaying poor skating and all around skills. Their goalie stopped only shots which hit him. The Paris-based septet was mature, with one defenseman being 55 years of age. His partner on the blueline was only 32, but sported a long beard, which proved to be dangerous to himself. He utilized "submarine" body checks, and when he ally-ooped opponents, his whiskers nearly got caught in their skates.
Other scores included: Sweden-4, France-0; USA-7, Sweden-0; USA-16, Czechs-0 for the Silver Medal; and Czechs-1, Sweden-0 for the Bronze.
After receptions in Montreal and Toronto, the Falcons returned home to Winnipeg on May 17th, where they were treated to a parade, a number of banquets, and the presentation of gold watches-tokens of esteem on the part of the city and the province. This was quite a contrast to the treatment once meted out by the existing Manitoba leagues due to bias against their ancestry.