International Ice Hockey Federation

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

25th December has some hockey history

Published 25.04.2017 09:17 GMT-4 | Author Andrew Podnieks
Merry Christmas!
The last World Junior Championship game on Christmas Day: Russia’s Alexander Radulov and Team USA’s Chris Bourque battle along the boards in Grand Forks, USA, on 25 December 2004. Photo: Shaun Best / Reuters
Ho, ho, ho! As hockey fans take a day to spend time with family and prepare for the Worlds, we look back at what this special day has brought the hockey world.

Many younger fans might not realize that the World Juniors used to start on Christmas Day (or sooner). Indeed, Canada and host Czechoslovakia played a memorable 4-4 game at the first U20 in Zvolen in 1976.

In that thriller, Canada’s Dale McCourt tied the game with only 19 seconds left and goalie Al Jensen on the bench for a sixth attacker.

A year later, Canada whipped the Czechoslovaks 9-3 in Montreal. That game was special because one Canadian player had three goals and three assists. He was only 16 and invited to play for Canada only because he was leading the OHL in scoring.

His name was Wayne Gretzky.

From 1979 to 1981 the U20 started on December 27, but in 1982 it started on December 22. Christmas was a day off that year, but in 1984 there was a full slate of four games in Norrkoping and Nykoping, Sweden.

In 1985, Leo Gudas scored the game winner with 59 seconds remaining to give the Czechs a 4-3 win over Sweden in Helsinki at the U20. That was the last Christmas Day game until 1998, in Finland. The hosts scored a huge 3-2 win over Canada that year to open the tournament en route to its first ever U20 gold for Suomi (excepting 1987 when Canada and the Soviets were disqualified).

The last time the World Juniors started on Christmas Day was in 2004 (the 2005 tournament) in Grand Forks. The host Americans beat Russia, 5-4, in a game which featured six goals in the first period and none in the final half of the game.

There have also been several players born on Christmas Day who went on to have fine international careers. The best December 25 baby is probably Dmitri Mironov. Born in 1965, he went on to play in two Olympics (gold in 1992, silver in 1998), the 1991 Canada Cup, and three World Championships.

One of Mironov’s teammates in the ‘91 Canada Cup team was Ravil Khaidarov, another Christmas baby. Japan’s Isao Asai, who played in the 1968 Olympics, was born 25th December 1942.

Other Christmas-born players include Morten Johansen (Norway, 1980 Olympics), Harald Kadow (West Germany, 1972 World Championship), Silvo Poljansek (Yugoslavia, 1972 & 1976 Olympics), Holger Granstrom (Finland, 1939 Worlds), William Klootser (Netherlands, 1980 Olympics, 1981 Worlds), Vitali Prokhorov (Soviet Union/Russia, several events), Stu Barnes (Canada, 1990 World Juniors), and Oliver Larsen (Denmark, 2016 U18).

Cedric Lengacher played just 14:42 at the 1982 World Juniors, but he’s still a Christmas baby and the only goalie of the group.

The women’s side also has some December 25 connections, including Maria Onolbayeva (RUS), Hege Ask (NOR), Laura Ruhnke (SUI), and Alsu Rakhimova (RUS).

And, of course, what would Christmas be without Garth Snow (USA, 1994 Olympics & 1998 World Championship), Jerzy Christ (POL, many events in the 1980s), and two Angels – Angel Krstev (CZE, 2000 U20) and Angel Nikolov (CZE, 1995 U20)?

Several other players have Christmas quite literally in their DNA. These include Nathan Noel, Noel Guyaz, Noel McLoughlin, Noel Derrick, and Noele Trisconi.

All in all, St. Nick has been kind to the IIHF, and the IIHF has been kind to 25th December. So as we all celebrate this festive day – and prepare for great hockey starting Boxing Day – we can appreciate the joy and importance of Christmas to the hockey world. Merry Christmas!


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