hockey, ice

International and Amateur Play

The NHL long regarded itself as the world's elite, but the overwhelming superiority of the Soviet Union in international amateur play in the 1960s led to a dramatic 1972 summit series between Team Canada (Canadian NHL players) and the Soviet national team. With their reputation on the line, the NHL stars narrowly won the series 4–3–1. Two years later the Soviets crushed a WHA All-Star team. In 1976–91 six of the world's major hockey powers competed in the periodic Canada Cup, a tournament the NHL and its player association organized. The Canadians won four times (1976, 1984, 1987, 1991) and the Soviets once (1981). The first World Cup, an eight-team expansion introduced in 1996, was won by the United States. The International Ice Hockey Federation (founded 1908) is the governing body for Olympic competition (begun in 1920) and world tournaments held annually since 1930 (but no longer contested in Olympic years). From the early 1960s through 1990 the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia dominated both. Although Canada has an elaborate system of amateur hockey leagues, the country has not excelled in international amateur hockey since the early 1950s, mainly because the best Canadian players quickly turn professional. The distinction between amateur and professional, however, is disappearing. In 1998 professionals played in the Olympics for the first time, as did women. Hockey at U.S. colleges has also been gaining in popularity; the National Collegiate Athletic Association championships, held since 1948, are now widely followed.

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