With or without the NHL's participation, the Olympics have provided some of the best hockey and most thrilling, memorable moments in the history of the sport. Here's my ranking of the top 12. Feel free to disagree, of course.
13. Garmisch 1936
The gold medal is won by . . . Great Britain? Eight players on Britain’s 12-man British team were actually raised in Canada, and a ninth was born in Canada. The team of expats actually dealt Canada its first loss in Olympic competition. A goal from Edgar Brenchley with six minutes to play in the third period gave Great Britain a 2-1 win against the favored Canadians.
11. Cortina 1956
A dynasty is born as the Soviet Union made a triumphant Olympic hockey debut, outscoring the opposition 40-9 in seven victories. The Soviets defeated Canada 2-0 in the final game, during which Denis Brodeur, father of future NHL Hall-of-Famer Martin Brodeur, tended goal for the Canadians. The Soviets (later the Unified Team) went on to win eight gold and two silver medals.
10. Chamonix 1924
In the first hockey tournament played during the Winter Olympics – the summer games of 1920 in Antwerp featured hockey as a new sport – Canada defeated five foes by a combined score of 110-3 to win the gold medal. The final game against the U.S. was competitive for a while; Canada’s Harry Watson recovered from being knocked out 20 seconds into the game and, with blood dripping into his eyes, scored the first two goals of a 6-1 victory.
9. Innsbruck 1964
The Soviets rallied from a 2-1 deficit to defeat Canada 3-2 and win the gold medal. Had the Canadians held on to their 2-1 lead, they would have finished first instead of fourth. Canada’s coach, Father David Bauer, cemented his reputation as a gentleman during the tournament by ordering his players not to retaliate against Swedish player Karl Oberg, who had hit him over the head with a stick during an earlier tournament game.
8. Nagano 1998
In the first Olympics with a full roster of NHL players available to the top teams, the Czech Republic overcame more celebrated foes to win the gold. Goalie Dominik Hasek shut out Russia in the final, making Petr Svoboda’s goal at eight minutes of the third period stand up in the 1-0 victory. Though Hasek played professionally for nearly three decades, he said that this was “the greatest moment of my life.”
7. Turin 2006
Sweden held off Finland for a thrilling 3-2 victory in the gold medal game. Nick Lidstrom scored the game winner ten seconds into the third period, with assists from Mats Sundin and Peter Forsberg. But the play of the game took place with 30 seconds to play, when goalie Henrik Lundqvist sealed the victory with a spread-eagle stick save against Olli Jokinen. Lundqvist’s stop was so stunning that Jokinen had already begun to raise his arms thinking he had scored.
6. Nagano 1998
In the first women’s hockey tournament in Olympic history, the U.S. held off Canada 3-1 to win the gold medal. Sandra Whyte assisted on the first two U.S. goals and added an empty-netter in the closing seconds to clinch the victory. Goalie Sarah Tueting made 21 saves to help the Americans survive a furious Canadian rally; Danielle Goyette scored with four minutes to go to cut the U.S. lead to 2-1.
5. Squaw Valley 1960
In the first Miracle on Ice, the U.S. beat the Soviet Union 3-2. With five minutes left in a tied third period, the Christian brothers, Bill and Roger, teamed up to score the game winner, and goalie Jack McCartan shut the door on the unlikely victory. The Americans still had to beat Czechoslovakia at 8 a.m. the next morning in the final game to clinch the gold medal. The U.S. trailed the Czechs 4-3 going into the third period, but exploded for six unanswered goals to win its first Olympic title.
4. Lillehammer 1994
In the seventh round of a memorable shootout, Sweden’s Peter Forsberg beat Canada’s Corey Hirsch with a beautiful move for the winner, and Tommy Salo turned back Paul Kariya to give the Swedes their first Olympic hockey gold medal. Canada trailed 1-0 midway through the third period, but went ahead on goals by Kariya and Derek Mayer. Sweden’s Magnus Svensson scored to tie the game at 2-2 with 1:49 to play. The Swedish postal service later commissioned a stamp to commemorate the winning goal, on which Forsberg pulled himself – and Hirsch – to one side and then dragged the puck into the open net with his backhand.
3. Lake Placid 1980
Many forget that, had the U.S. not beaten Finland two days after upsetting the Soviet Union, the Americans could have missed the medals entirely. Things look grim after two periods, with the Finns ahead, 2-1, but Phil Verchota, Rob McClanahan and Mark Johnson score third period goals to clinch the gold medal for the U.S.
2. Vancouver 2010
Canada won the gold medal when Sidney Crosby beat U.S. goalie Ryan Miller with a shot from a bad angle for the winner at 7:40 of overtime, lifting the host country to a dramatic 3-2 victory. The U.S. had made a game of it when Zach Parise rapped home a rebound with just 25 seconds left in the third period to tie the score. Roberto Luongo made 37 saves as Canada avenged a 5-3 loss to Team USA from earlier in the tournament.
1. Lake Placid 1980
Against heavy odds, the U.S. team rallied from three separate deficits to defeat the Soviets, 4-3, in a game that has become known as the Miracle on Ice. Just two days before the Olympics began, the Soviets had defeated Team USA 10-3 in an exhibition at Madison Square Garden. But U.S. captain Mike Eruzione beat Vladimir Myshkin with the winning goal ten minutes into the third period, and American goalie Jim Craig made 36 saves to preserve the victory. In 2000, the Associated Press names this the top sports moment of the 20th century.