The NHL players' association, the league, the International Ice Hockey Federation, and the International Olympic Committee met last week in an attempt to decide whether professional players will be competing at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. And while no deal was announced, the NHL is expected to once again end up sending its players to the Games. That would allow the league’s many Russian superstars to compete in their home country in what could end up being the greatest Olympic men’s hockey tournament of all time.
But which tournament would it have to beat out for the honor? And which tournaments were bad enough that Sochi can already be penciled in ahead of them by default?
I think we need to rank them. Let’s do this.
Hockey has been part of the Olympics since it debuted in 1920. (Note: I refuse on principle to refer to the sport by its official Olympic name, “ice hockey.” Apologies in advance if you’re a die-hard field hockey fan who finds this lack of distinction confusing.) In theory, we could rank every one of those appearances, but to be honest, the first few decades were pretty dull. Canada dominated until 1952, then the Soviets took over, but nobody paid much attention because back then there were only about 100 people in the world who knew how to skate.
So let’s arbitrarily call this a ranking of “modern” Olympic men’s hockey. I think 1976 seems like as good a place as any to use a cutoff, since Canada and Sweden (among others) didn’t even bother to send teams that year. So let’s rank all the Games from 1980 on, which gives us a list of nine to work with.
One thing: This list is coming from a North American perspective and has that bias built in. Consider yourself warned, my Nordic friends.