10 of the most memorable moments in Olympic ice hockey history

From underdog triumphs to thrilling sudden-death goals, the ice hockey tournament at the Olympic Games always provides great drama.

By William Imbo

Ice hockey is one of the signature sports in the Winter Olympic programme, and regardless of the Games, always seems to produce incredible moments of drama and action.

In fact, there have been so many great ice hockey moments at the Olympics that compiling a list of 10 was quite the challenge.

So ahead of what promises to be another exceptional competition at Beijing 2022, take a trip down memory lane and get (re)acquainted with some legendary ice hockey moments in Olympic history.

Ice hockey makes its Olympic debut...at the Summer Games

You’d think that since ice hockey has the word ‘ice’ in it, the sport would be one of the original events at the Winter Olympics. And while ice hockey was on the programme for the first Olympic Winter Games at Chamonix 1924, it actually made its Olympic debut four years earlier at the Olympic Summer Games in Antwerp, where Canada won the first of its nine gold medals in the men’s competition.

Ice hockey was transferred permanently to the Winter programme in 1924 (in case you were wondering, Canada won gold at Chamonix as well, beating their five opponents by a combined score of 110-3).

Nagano 1998

The women’s ice hockey tournament was first held at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, and in what has since become a recurring theme at the Winter Olympics, Canada faced the USA in the gold medal game.

The USA would emerge victorious thanks in large part to the efforts of goalie Sarah Tueting (who made 21 saves) and Sandra Whyte, who assisted on the first two goals and provided the game-clinching third in the closing seconds to seal the win.

Great Britain wins gold

Great Britain have won 11 gold medals in their history of competing at the Winter Olympics, and that includes their victory in the men’s ice hockey tournament at the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games in 1936.

Great Britain end Canada's reign
Picture by IOC

Considering the general lack of facilities and participation in the sport in Britain, their gold medal - beating the favoured Canadians 2-1 in the final no less - is somewhat of a surprise. 

But when you consider that eight of Britain’s 12-man team were actually raised in Canada (with a ninth being born in the nation), their stunning win over the Canadians (who were undefeated in Olympic competition up to that point) becomes a little more clear.

Unsurprisingly, Great Britain has failed to win a medal in the event since.

The Soviet streak begins

The Soviet Union made their Olympic debut in men’s hockey with a statement at the 1956 Olympics in Cortina, beating Canada (who had won six of the last seven Olympic tournaments) 2-0 in the final to claim gold.

The Soviets (later the Unified Team) would go on to win seven of the next nine Olympic tournaments.

Marie-Philip Poulin wins gold for Canada in overtime

Sochi, 2014.

The United States and Canada meet in the gold medal game in what is a replay of the final of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, where Canada won its third consecutive gold medal thanks to a 2-0 victory over their neighbours to the south.

Marie-Philip Poulin wins gold for Canada
Picture by 2014 Getty Images

But things aren’t going to plan in Russia, as the U.S. has built up a 2-0 lead in the third and final period. Canada is on the ropes, but refuses to give up; Brianne Jenner scores her first goal of the tournament with three-and-a-half minutes to go to make it a one-score game. A few minutes later, with less than 60 seconds left on the clock, Marie-Philip Poulin pops up to save Canada with a crucial goal to send the game into sudden-death overtime.

First. Goal. Wins.

Poulin, seemingly not satisfied with having saved Canada’s bacon in regular time (not to mention scoring both goals in the 2010 final), decides to take the opportunity to immortalise herself in hockey folklore by scoring the goal to send her team — and her nation — into delirium.

Dominik Hasek leads the Czech Republic to glory

NHL players first competed at an Olympic ice hockey tournament at the Nagano 1998 Games, with most nations taking the opportunity to bring their big guns to Japan.

Canada, for example, had a roster filled with future Hall of Famers, including Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, and Patrick Roy.

The Czech Republic had players competing in America’s top professional hockey league as well, but their squad was still considered to be among the ‘weaker’ ones in Nagano. Sure, they might sneak onto the podium in the bronze medal position, but gold was out of the question.

The Czechs didn’t get the memo, knocking out the powerhouse Canadians in a semi-final penalty shootout (with Dominik Hasek stopping every Canadian he faced) to advance to the gold-medal game against Russia.

In the final Hasek was a giant once more as he saved all 21 shots he faced; Petr Svoboda’s lone goal was enough to give the Czech Republic the most unlikely of wins and its first gold medal in Olympic men’s ice hockey. Hasek’s professional career spanned three decades, but he would later say that the gold medal win in Nagano was “the greatest moment of my life.”

Team USA gets their revenge

Heading into the women’s ice hockey tournament at PyeongChang 2018, the USA must have had their eyes fixed on a rematch with Canada; the team that had bested them in the previous two Olympic finals.

And after Canada triumphed 2-1 once again in their sole meeting in Group play, fans of Team USA must have felt that their neighbours to the north had their number.

Both teams would cruise through the semi-finals to set up a fifth gold medal confrontation between the two at the Winter Olympics.

In the final, the USA came out of the blocks firing, scoring a crucial power-play goal at the end of the first period to seize the advantage. Canada would come roaring back in the second period with two goals of their own, before the USA tied things up again in the third period to send the game into overtime.

The world’s two best teams couldn’t be separated in the extra frame, which meant a nerve-wracking penalty shootout was next. The USA were able to hold their nerve to win 3-2, taking home gold for the first time since women’s hockey debuted at the Olympic Games in Nagano, 20 years earlier.

Sidney Crosby’s golden goal

Canada have been the preeminent ‘Kings’ of Olympic men’s ice hockey (one could argue ice hockey in general), winning 22 medals, including 13 golds. And while there is a rivalry with the USA on the ice, it has been fairly one-sided.

In fact, in the 18 Olympic games between the two nations, the USA has only come out on top on three occasions. So when Canada met the USA once again in the gold medal game at Vancouver 2010, the fans inside Canada Hockey Place would have been forgiven for thinking the result was a foregone conclusion.

And so it seemed, as Canada took an early 2-0 lead midway through the second period. But the USA proved they weren’t going to give up as Ryan Kesler got one goal back in the same period before Zach Parise snatched the equaliser in the dying seconds of the third period to send the game into overtime.

Now everyone was nervous; after all, the next team to score would win the game, and with it the gold medal. Thankfully for Canada, they had an all-time talent on the ice in Sidney Crosby; seven minutes into overtime, the Pittsburgh Penguins star slotted the puck between the legs of Ryan Miller for another famous victory for Canada over the USA.

Peter Forsberg’s stamp of approval

Peter Forsberg is considered to be one of the greatest hockey players in history, which explains his simple - yet awesome - nickname: Peter the Great.

Among his many trophies and accolades earned throughout his career, Forsberg was instrumental in helping Sweden win its first gold medal in ice hockey when he produced a sublime shootout goal in the final against Canada at the Lillehammer 1994 Olympic Winter Games. The goal was so good, in fact, that it earned him a spot on a Swedish postal stamp and cemented his legacy as a hockey legend.

The Miracle on Ice

Any fan of ice hockey undoubtedly knows the story of the Miracle on Ice. Set against the backdrop of a political and national rivalry (not to mention the Cold War), a plucky U.S. team comprised almost entirely of collegiate players took on a behemoth Soviet Union team in the men’s gold medal game at the Lake Placid 1980 Olympics.

The Miracle on Ice

The Soviets were overwhelming favourites to win; two days before the Olympics began, the two teams met in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden, with the Soviets thrashing the U.S. team 10-3.

Yet the U.S. team managed to progress to the final, where they would meet the Soviets once more. The USA came back from three separate deficits to win 4-3, with American goalie Jim Craig among the standout players as he made 36 saves. 

The ‘Miracle on Ice’, as it became known, transcended into legend, with multiple books (and even a movie) made about the USA’s triumph. In 2000, the Associated Press named the win the top sports moment of the 20th century.