Winter Olympic Games: Ice Hockey

Ice hockey at the 2014 Winter Olympics – Men's tournament Czech Republic vs Slovakia. Image credit: Pawel Maryanov via Wikimedia Commons
Ice hockey at the 2014 Winter Olympics – Men's tournament Czech Republic vs Slovakia. Image credit: Pawel Maryanov via Wikimedia Commons

The International Olympics Committee first incorporated ice hockey into the Olympic Games during the 1920 Summer Olympics. Later on during the 1924 Winter Olympic Games, ice hockey became an exclusive Winter Olympics game. It was not until the 1998 Winter Olympics that the women’s version of the event officially took place. At the Olympics, ice hockey follows stipulated International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) rules and adheres to the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) procedures on performance-enhancing drugs. During the various Olympics, Canada, Sweden, the US, Britain, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, Finland, and Russia have been some of the most successful teams.


ice hockey olympics
An ice hockey match at Winter Olympics. Image credit: S.Yume/Flickr

Generally, fourteen teams participate in each Winter Olympics ice hockey games. Previously, the “big six” (Canada, the US, Russia, Czech Republic, Russia, and Finland) got direct qualifications to the last round of Olympics qualifiers because of their rank as per IIHF World Ranking. The other teams usually go through a round robin and elimination before the best advance to the Olympics. As for players, the IIHF rules stipulate that a player must be a citizen of the country he/she is representing in the Olympics and also be a member of a national IIHF association. Initially, the games were only open to non-professional players although a combination of different factors led to the shelving of this rule.

During the Olympics, some of the rules applied are different from the NHL rules. For starters, the rink at the Olympics is slightly bigger (200 feet × 100 feet) than the ones used in the NHL. This measurement allows faster play and less physical contact among players. IIHF rules at the Olympics are strict and allows ejecting of fighting players rather than issuing penalties as in the NHL. On doping, the following substances remain banned as per WADA rules: Ephedrine, Codeine, Testosterone, Acetazolamide, 19-Norandrosterone, Pseudoephedrine, Methylhexaneamine, and anabolic androgenic steroids among others.

Event History: Men’s Tournament

In the 1920 Summer Olympics, the men’s ice hockey events were in three rounds and seven teams were present, these are, the US, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, France, and Belgium. The first round was an elimination round and determined the gold medalist team whereas the second round was for the silver medalist team. Round three involved teams in the contest for the bronze medals. Canada won gold, the US won silver, and Czechoslovakia settled for bronze. Between 1924 and 1988, the tournament involved a round-robin system and during this period, the “big six” teams dominated the events. The 1980 Winter Olympics in New York gave birth to America's “Miracle on the Ice” name when they managed to cut the Soviet’s lead within a second left to the end of the first period, trailed in the second period, and won in the third period despite the Soviet side being the most skillful and aggressive. Due to the prevailing political Cold War between the two nations, US fans celebrated as if they had won gold on that night, though they won it two days later against Finland. After the fall of the USSR, the IIHL accepted the membership of some former USSR states whereas, after the split of Czechoslovakia, Czech Republic maintained all aspects of the former state at the IIHF while Slovakia had to work its rank from the bottom. In the history of ice hockey at the Olympics, the NHL and IIHF have had several conflicts about the rules and timing of the games. These conflicts have made NHL players not to participate in all the Olympic Games.

Event History: Women’s Tournament

Women's Ice Hockey match between Slovakia and Switzerland at the 2020 Winter Youth Olympics. Image credit: Sandro Halank via Wikimedia Commons.

The inaugural ice hockey women’s tournament at the 1998 Winter Olympics had only six teams including the host, Japan, which the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association's (CAHA) had to train in order for the competitions to be competitive. The US won gold. In the 2002 Winter Olympics, eight teams represented their countries and up to the last Olympics, Canada and the US have largely been dominant.


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