vinter olympia, 1952: penalties make hockey a human game

The Edmonton Mercurys carried off the gold on Canada’s behalf at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo. On this very day they plundered the Swiss by a score of 11-2; the very next, they won their sixth game in a row in a 3-2 squeeze past the Swedes.

The talk of the tournament that week was all about how brash and bumpingly the North Americans insisted on playing their hockey. Canada’s 4-1 win over Czechoslovakia was the stormiest of the tournament: “slashing, hooking, holding were thrown in,” Jack Sullivan of the Canadian Press wrote, “even a mild fistic display by Canada’s Gordie Robertson.” An 8-2 U.S. win over Switzerland saw an American defenceman, Joe Czarnota, ejected from the game for an attack on Gian Bazzi. From the stands, Norwegian fans threw orange peels in protest, and barracked (the AP noted) the Americans, calling them “Chicago gangsters.” The Swiss wanted Czarnota suspended. The IIHF didn’t think that was necessary, though they did see fit to ask the U.S. and Canada to behave.

Norwegian Prime Minister Oscar Torp didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Or — did: the problem was that his people didn’t know hockey. Getting worked up about   on-ice kerfuffling was the result, he said, of “ignorance.”

“People should understand penalties make hockey a human game,” the PM explained. “When the boys get so het up that they do something wrong or get too rough — okay, give them two minutes to cool down and think it over.”

Canadian coach Lou Holmes thought that tournament was, all told, a wholesome affair.  “Some of the penalties that were given against Canadian players would not have been awarded in Canada,” he offered after it was all over, “since these European referees are obviously not accustomed to hard bodychecking.”

In their final game, the Canadians and Americans tied, 3-3, at Oslo’s Jordal Arena in front of a crowd of 10,000 or so. “The match was correct, and unmarred by incidents,” was the word from The New York Times’ correspondent. With the U.S. having previously lost to Sweden, it was enough to secure the gold for Canada, leaving the U.S. with the silver. The Mercurys celebrated by tossing Coach Holmes in the air and singing “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.” The Times:

At this point several hundred youngsters engaged the police in a battle to reach the Canadians. The kids’ wedge pierced the police lines and the Canadian players gave the lucky first-comers their hockey sticks as souvenirs.

A playoff was needed to decide the bronze. A 4-0 final-day win by Czechoslovakia over Sweden left the teams with identical records, so they played again the following day. This time the Swedes prevailed by a score of 5-3. That’s Sweden’s Göte Blomqvist here, above, having just scored his team’s winning goal.

air show, 1948: sticks flew, tempers flared

canada-v-swedes-1948

Force Majeure: The RCAF Flyers began their pursuit of hockey gold in 1948 with a victory on January 30 over Sweden. Hard to say just where the Swedish players were when this photograph was taken — strung out across centre ice, awaiting the Canadian onslaught? The Swedes’ Lindstrom opened the scoring in the first period of a game that The Ottawa Journal described as tough and bruising. George Mara tied the score before the intermission, and Wally Halder got the winner in the second. Both those players were civilian reinforcements; Flying Officer Reg Schroeter added an insurance goal in the final period. “Sticks flew and tempers flared in the final minutes of the game,” advised The Journal, “with a free-for-all threatening.” Didn’t happen, though the Canadian goaltender did end up taking a penalty for throwing his stick. Under Olympic rules, Aircraftman 2nd Class Murray Dowey went to serve the punishment himself with eight seconds remaining. No worries:

Defenceman Andre Laperriere took Dowey’s spot in the nets, without goaltending equipment, and a stout Canadian defence prevented a shot on goal before the final whistle.

(Image: Library and Archives Canada, R15559-22-2-E)

stopping a salming

sverige76

The Canadians had a simple plan: stop a Salming.

Tuesday, September 7 was the day Sweden and Canada clashed, at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto in that September of 1976. The home team had opened its account at the first Canada Cup with a merciless mincemeating of Finland: 11-2 was the final. Next day, Sweden beat the United States by a count of 5-2. Canada went on to master the U.S., too, 4-2, while the Swedes shared a 3-3 tie with the Soviet Union.

Canada’s plan for the Swedes had two parts, the first of which precipitated a line-up adjustment: out went a couple of goalscoring wingers, Reggie Leach and Danny Gare, in came a pair with recognized defensive chops, Bob Gainey and Lanny McDonald.

Part two: smother a Salming.

There were two of them to choose from, both defencemen. Stig, the elder at 28, didn’t worry Canada too much, not in the way that his younger brother did, the Maple Leafs’ own Borje, who was 25. If Lars-Erik Sjöberg was the Swedish captain, Salming Minor was their on-ice leader, not to mention an offensive threat — he’d scored a goal in each of the first two games.

There was no secret to Canada’s strategy. “He’s too good,” Gainey said. “If you let him skate, he’s going to hurt you.”

“It’s nothing new, eh?” captain Bobby Clarke told the Toronto Star’s Jim Proudfoot afterwards. “Just like playing the Leafs in the National Hockey League. Everybody knows you’ve got to control Salming or he’ll murder you. The Swedes built their whole offence around him. He’s the guy who brings the puck out of their zone, and he’s the man they want to get the puck to on the powerplay.”

“Everybody had the same instructions — get in there quick and take Salming before he gets underway,” coach Scotty Bowman said afterwards.

Bill Barber was the first to hit Salming hard in the first period, before Bobby Hull applied himself. “He threw two clean checks,” Scott Young wrote, “with all the power of the strongest physique in North American hockey.”

Salming had one long shot on goaltender Rogie Vachon — Proudfoot rated it the hardest he had to handle all night — but otherwise the Leafs’ defenceman wasn’t prominent in the 4-0 win that Canada composed. Bob Gainey had been assigned the job of checking Anders Hedberg, but he found time to score a pair of goals, too, with Hull and Marcel Dionne counting the others.

“The man said he wanted us to hit Salming,” Hull said after the game. “I’m just here to please.” Canada’s back-up goaltender, Gerry Cheevers, agreed that Salming hadn’t been the force he’d been in his team’s previous games. “We can thank Hull for that. Those hits would have stopped a Clydesdale.”

(Canada Cup poster by Thomas Ross McNeely. Credit: Library and Archives Canada)