“Nobody ever expects Germany to beat Canada,” was what Brad Bergen came to be shouting on an April’s day in Vienna in 1996. “Canada is apparently the motherland of hockey.”
This is what’s called, in hockey and elsewhere, taunting. Bergen, a defenceman who was 30 that year, might be forgiven his fervour, I guess, and maybe his volume, given that the team he was playing for, German’s national team, had just walloped their Canadian rivals 5-1 at the 60th edition of the IIHF World Championships in Austria. The twist: for all his contributions to the German blueline, Bergen was then and remains a son of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, smack in the middle of hockey’s (apparent) motherland.
Bergen wasn’t wrong in ’96: at that time, the tradition of German hockey teams failing to overcome their Canadian rivals at the World Championships was strong, and long, extending back to 1930. In three incarnations (Germany, West Germany, and East Germany), German teams had beaten the Canadians they faced just once in 34 attempts. The lone victory pre-’96 was in Vienna, too, in 1987, when West Germany upset Canada 6-4 at the 52nd Worlds.
Kudos, then, to the German team at this year’s tournament, the 84th edition underway in Latvia, who on Monday overturned Canada today by a score of 3-1 in Group B play.
This week’s German win leaves Canada with an 0-3 record to start this year’s tournament; it also marks a further shift in the hockey firmament that Brad Bergen played under. With Germany beating Canada in the semi-finals at XXIII Olympic Winter Games in South Korea in 2018, expectations may have shifted. Canadians will (of course) cry that the teams at those Olympics and these Worlds are undermanned, not-our-best, just-you-wait-til-we-line-up-our-NHL-frontliners … because that’s what Canadians always say in the face of hockey losses on international ice.
In 1996, glum Canadian wire reports from Vienna sought solace in noting that the Germans lined up several Canadian-born players when they took on Canada. That’s true — the Germans also had several Czech-born players that year and a Belgian on the roster, along with the talented homegrown likes of Jochen Hecht, Olaf Kolzig, and Marco Sturm. Among the German goalscorers on the day was Peter Draisaitl, Leon’s dad.
Canada’s roster wasn’t a bad one, either, with Martin Brodeur tending the net and Paul Kariya, Ray Ferraro, and Steve Thomas at forward. From a Canadian perspective, the early loss to Germany wasn’t too much of a problem, in the end: the Canadians made it to the final, yielding gold to a Czech Republic team featuring Roman Turek, Robert Lang, and Robert Reichel. For their part, the Germans finished 8th in the 12-team tournament.
Throwing back further still, would we note that Germany joined the International Ice Hockey Federation in 1909, while Canada didn’t get on board until 1920? Yes, let’s: that gives us license to include the photograph here at the top.
The organization was called the Ligue International de Hockey sur Glace (LIHG) in those earliest years. For three winters, from 1912 through ’14, there was a LIHG Championship tournament that was as close as hockey came at the time to a world championships.
Germany won the first one of those, a five-team affair in Brussels in which they beat the Oxford Canadians, who were in attendance as the English champions. The Germans defended their title in 1913 in St. Moritz in Switzerland.
In 1914, at Chamonix in France, Germany was represented by Berliner Schlittschuhclub, featuring the line-up that’s pictured above. Four teams took part that last January before war shattered Europe, with Great Britain prevailing. The Germans finished second, ahead of France and Bohemia, the latter an early (albeit brief) hockey power, then still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but not for long: in 1918, it would be remapped as the core of the Czechoslovak Republic.
Three of the players above were German-born: Fritz Lange, Alfred Steinke, and Bruno Grauel. Hans Georgii and Nils Molander were Swedes, and both of them were picked to play for their country at hockey very first Olympics, in Antwerp in 1920, though only Molander ended up making it there. Johan Ollus was a Finn. The goaltender, Arthur Boak, was Halifax-born, and studied at Queen’s University in Kingston and taught at McGill before making his way to Berlin to further his studies. He would receive a doctorate from Harvard the same year he was stopping pucks in Chamonix, and would go on to become an eminent ancient historian who taught at the University of Michigan.
Next to him in the image here is a true pioneer of international hockey, Dr. Charles Hartley. Born in North Plains, Michigan, he grew up in Brantford, Ontario, and studied dentistry at the University of Toronto. It was as a dentist that he Germany where, naturally, he took to the ice when he wasn’t in the office.
As Stephen Hardy and Andrew Holman detail in their comprehensive Hockey: A Global History (2018), Hartley was the man who steered Germany’s bandy players over to hockey. In 1906, with the help of a friend in Toronto, he had Canadian sticks and pucks shipped to Germany. “From 1907 to the outbreak of the Great War,” Hardy and Holman write, “Hartley travelled with German club and national teams, playing, teaching, and refereeing the newer game.”
“Unser Meisterlehrer,” Hartley was called by his German teammates: “our master teacher.” He left Germany in 1917 and settled in California. His dentistry practice would seem to have thrived there: his clients would come to include Greta Garbo, Gary Cooper, and Fred Astaire. He doesn’t seem to have lost any of his puck-chasing energy or enthusiasm: as a college coach, he would become known (as the Globe and Mail’s Vern DeGeer identified him in 1938) as “the Father of Southern California hockey.”