Ice Hockey is a fast paced team sport placed on ice, requiring good levels of skill, speed, agility and endurance. Ice hockey made its first appearance at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp. Four years later, what is now known as the first Winter Olympics was held in Chamonix and an Ice Hockey event was included. Women’s ice hockey was added to the program in Nagano 1998. It was also the first time the ice hockey competition was open to professionals. There is now a men’s and women’s ice hockey event.
In 1920, the first time ice hockey was played at the Olympics, Canada won the gold medal with the United States claiming silver and Czechoslovakia the bronze. Canada were undefeated in ice hockey for the first four Winter Games and finally lost their first ice hockey match in 1936, with Great Britain winning the gold medal (though it is worth noting that almost all of the British players lived in Canada!).
In Oslo in 1952, the Canadian ice hockey team won their seventh gold medal in eight Olympics – though it was fifty years before they won another! First participating at the 1956 Winter Olympics, the Soviet Union (USSR) not only won the gold medal in ice hockey, but won the most medals of all countries, with the US upsetting both the Canadian and Soviet teams four years later in 1960, winning the gold in Squaw Valley.
The ice hockey competitions of the 2014 Winter Olympics, will be played at two venues located 300 metres from each other in the Olympic Park. The Bolshoy Ice Dome, which seats 12,000 opened in 2012 and resembles a Fabergé egg! The Shayba Arena, which opened for use in 2013, seats 7,000, and is a moveable structure that will be used after the games in another Russian city. Both venues are international sized (60 metres by 30 metres), as opposed to the North American size used in Vancouver. Twelve teams will compete in the men’s tournament, eight in the women’s event.
There is a consensus across the hockey world that Team Canada rates as the favourite to bring home the men’s competition gold from the Sochi Olympics. Three other teams are viable contenders – Russia, Sweden and the US – while a group of as many as eight teams could fight for podium spots.