Ice Hockey - International Competition - National Teams

National Teams

The annual men's Ice Hockey World Championships are more highly regarded by Europeans than North Americans because they coincide with the Stanley Cup playoffs. Consequently, Canada, the United States, and other countries with large numbers of NHL players have not always been able to field their best possible teams because many of their top players are playing for the Stanley Cup. Furthermore, for many years professionals were barred from play. Now that many Europeans play in the NHL, the world championships no longer represent all of the world's top players.

Hockey has been played at the Winter Olympics since 1924 (and at the summer games in 1920). Canada won six of the first seven gold medals to 1952, the exception occurring in 1936 when Great Britain won. The USSR won all but two gold medals from 1956 to 1988 as well as a final time as the Unified Team at the 1992 Albertville Olympics. The United States won their first gold medal in 1960. On the way to winning the gold medal at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics amateur US college players defeated the heavily favored Soviet squad – an event known as the "Miracle on ice" in the United States. Since the 1998 games in Nagano all top players from the NHL have been able to take part, with Vancouver 2010 being the first time held in an NHL market since the inclusion of NHL players. Nowadays Winter Olympics games are the most highly regarded international tournament by ice hockey fans.

The 1972 Summit Series and 1974 Summit Series, established Canada and the USSR as a major international ice hockey rivalry. It was followed by five Canada Cup tournaments, where the best players from every hockey nation could play, and two exhibition series, the 1979 Challenge Cup and Rendez-vous '87 where the best players from the NHL played the USSR. The Canada Cup tournament later became the World Cup of Hockey, played in 1996 and 2004. The United States won in 1996 and Canada won in 2004.

Since the initial women's world championships in 1990 there have been thirteen tournaments. Women's hockey has been played at the Olympics since 1998. The 2006 Winter Olympic final between Canada and Sweden marked the only time the women's world championship or Olympic final did not involve both Canada and the United States

The annual Euro Hockey Tour, an unofficial European championships between the national men's teams of the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden have been played since 1996–97.

Other ice hockey tournaments featuring national teams include the World U20 Championship, the World U18 Championships, the World U-17 Hockey Challenge, the World Junior A Challenge, the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, the World Women's U18 Championships and the 4 Nations Cup.

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