Skip to main content

In 1964, Canada's hockey players went to the Innsbruck Olympics and compiled a record that should have won them a bronze medal.

They were denied a bronze because of some shenanigans by International Ice Hockey Federation president Bunny Ahearne, and the wrong was never corrected.

But in April of this year, the IIHF appeared to rise to the occasion and do the right thing. It agreed to award bronze medals to the Canadians -- at least, world championship bronze medals.

Story continues below advertisement

The 1964 Olympic tournament had doubled as the IIHF's world championship.But the Canadian players said they had gone to Innsbruck to compete in the Olympics.

They didn't even know the world championship was part of the deal.

Therefore, they felt they were owed Olympic medals. That's when the IIHF backed off and reversed its decision to give the Canadians a world championship bronze.

The IIHF explained by saying the minutes from the 1964 IIHF meeting had been found and showed that the required number of council members had voted in favour of a rule change, one that had incited the problem in the first place.

It was a little like saying a crime was justified because the participants approved, but that was the IIHFs' excuse for reversing its April decision.

In truth, the federation probably didn't want the embarrassment of going to the International Olympic Committee and asking for a change in the 1964 Olympic standings -- in effect, admitting it goofed up.

Hockey Canada filed an appeal, but it was rejected a few days ago by the IIHF. And that was pretty much game, set and match for Canada in its bid to receive the medals.

Story continues below advertisement

"I'm disappointed and disappointed for the players," Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said. "When I go through the minutes, I certainly feel they deserve the medal."

Here's how the Canadians were cheated: IIHF tournament rules stipulated that ties in a final standings were settled by the record of the tied teams against each other. At Innsbruck, the Soviet Union finished first. Sweden, Canada and Czechoslovakia tied for second place. In the games involving the three tied teams, each had a win and loss.

The second tiebreaker was goals for and against. By that measure, Sweden finished second, Canada third and Czechoslovakia out of the medals.

But, at the end of the tournament, while Canada was playing its final game, Ahearne hastily convened a council meeting and introduced a rule change. It stated that results from all tournament games, not just those involving the teams that were tied, would determine the final standings. By that tally, Czechoslovakia moved ahead of Canada.

It's worth noting that none of the four teams contending for a medal voted in favour of the change. The Soviet Union voted against it, as did Czechoslovakia and Canada. Sweden abstained.

But Ahearne, who made no attempt to hide his contempt for Canadian hockey, got enough votes, including one from the United States, to push it through.

Story continues below advertisement

More than 40 years later, Paul Conlin, a 1964 team member and now an Ottawa lawyer, said he wasn't surprised that the IIHF rejected Hockey Canada's appeal.

"We were fairly optimistic in the beginning when they made the initial decision that they were going to award us a medal," Conlin said.

"But when we pursued it, indicating we should be getting an Olympic medal instead of a world championship medal, they seemed to backtrack quite a bit.

"I think the IIHF lacks a little bit of courage. They were afraid to admit the mistake.

"I don't think they have the courage to admit that Mr. Ahearne deliberately set out, in my view, to see that Canada didn't get a medal at those Olympics and changed the rules when it became apparent we were likely going to medal."

It's worth noting that Hockey Canada didn't ask that the Czechoslovak players be stripped of their bronze medals.

Story continues below advertisement

It requested another set of medals be awarded to Canada.

The IIHF wouldn't even agree to that.

Reactions to rules

With all the rule changes in the National Hockey League, analyst Greg Millen expects plenty of penalties to be called early in the season, but perhaps not as many as anticipated. "I don't think the players can possibly allow it to [revert to an obstruction game]" Millen said. "They've got too much skin [dollars invested]in the game now. I can't imagine it happening, and they're very committed to it. We're looking at a huge cultural change to the game -- for the good."

At some training camps, players are scrimmaging without sticks.

"It's going to be about body positioning," Millen said. "You can't use your stick now to create a body position because you're going to get a penalty. For the defencemen, it's almost like basketball -- blocking out to get position between the net and player."

Bob Nicholson, on the NHL's rule changes: "I was talking to Wayne Gretzky and he just said: 'Wow, we've got to change how were coaching. And, if any of our scouts are talking about big and tough, no. It's got to be about speed.' I love that comment."

whouston@globeandmail.ca

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter