The Event was billed as the 21st World Amateur Ice Hockey Championships. In fact, these 10 days were a bone-rattling little cold war fought on the arena ice of four major German industrial cities.
One of the main antagonists was a fancy-Dan, springy-legged Soviet team, World Champions going into the tournament. The Soviet players wore jerseys as red as their country's flag, trooped onto the ice in military style and were led by a flat-nosed team captain named Bobrov who read Theodore Dreiser in his spare time.
Against the World Champion Russians stood the team from Canada. It was Canada's best amateur club, winner of the Allan Cup, a team that calls itself Penticton V's after Penticton, British Columbia, its home town and the V line of peaches grown there—Valiants, Veterans and Vedettes. The Penticton V's were out to undo the wrong perpetrated on Canada last year when the mother nation of ice hockey lost the world title to the Soviets. To right that wrong, the Penticton V's came well equipped.
Player-Coach Grant Warwick had played with the New York Rangers for six and a half years, later for the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens. He had been the National Hockey League's rookie-of-the-year in the 1941-42 season. Along with Grant came his brothers Dick and Bill, the latter a stick-scarred veteran with a face stitched together like an eiderdown, a former wartime Ranger who went on to eight more seasons as a minor league pro.
March 14, 1955
In all, there were 17 players, most of whom had at one time earned their living playing hockey. Registering at a Berlin hotel while on a prechampionship warm-up tour, the majority stated their occupation as "hockey player." Canadian newsmen in Germany to cover their boys' progress called them fondly "the gashouse gang from Penticton."
On the tournament's opening night the V's faced a U.S. team composed of college boys and service men, amateurs in the classical sense of the word. That night, while an official of the Ligue Internationale de Hockey sur Glace made an opening speech, the V's appalled authority-revering German spectators by shooting the puck and continuing to warm up throughout the speech. The team had warmed up well, however, and when the V's had finished their night's work at Dortmund's Westfalenhalle arena the score stood at 12-1. Six of the goals were scored by Bill Warwick. In the U.S. team's dressing room, Coach Al Yourkewicz growled: "We might as well have been playing the National Hockey League All-Stars."
SOME SOCCER ON ICE
The following night the Czechoslovak team slipped into the Penticton meat grinder, 5-3, while the Russians danced to a tight 2-1 victory over a stubborn, bullish Swedish team. While the Swedes slashed at the Soviet forward line, the Soviets skated elegantly, clicked precision passes and carefully avoided body contact. The Soviet style of play looked like soccer transposed onto ice—pass and run, pass and run.
The Penticton V's style was different. It called for plenty of body contact. The German press called the style "rough" and tagged Bill Warwick "Der wilde Bill." A West German paper tuttutted the Canadians tartly: "In Europe we have very decided ideas of fair play...."
The fact of the matter was that Penticton had brought Canadian hockey to the championships and had found, to its surprise, that where the Ligue Internationale de Hockey sur Glace held sway quite different rules applied. Body checking was only allowed in the defenders' third of the rink and then at least two meters away from the boards. Checking against the boards was taboo. On the other hand, European referees were apt to overlook such offenses as high sticking, interference and kicking with skates. The strange rules conflicted with the V's ingrained hockey craft. The team became edgy. They refused to move into quarters assigned to them, chose instead one of D√ºsseldorf's poshest hotels. Some of the players didn't like German milk, so they sent to Penticton for some. It arrived promptly by air.
On the ice, "Der wilde Bill" Warwick impressed German fans about the same way London audiences react to Gorgeous George. Whenever the Penticton boy appeared on the ice the otherwise gentle crowd erupted in a frenzy of fist shaking and booming boos. But as the Canadian grinder crunched on—Germany 10-1, Finland 12-1, Poland 8-0, Sweden 3-0, Switzerland 11-1—the Canucks learned and so did German spectators. At the Swiss game, which was attended by the Shah and Queen of Iran, Billy Warwick swatted in three goals without ever seeing the inside of the penalty box.
While the V's ground away, the Soviets put on a nightly pass-and-run exhibition. The men in red played little Communist brother Czechoslovakia the night after the Prague boys had been laced by the Canadians. Either because of the lacing or because orders had come down from above, the Czech team didn't feel like playing. The Soviet forward line of Bobrov, Babitch and Shuvalov passed and passed till they had passed the puck into the nets, 4-0. And the Soviets' passing continued: 5-1 against Germany, Finland 10-2, Poland 8-2, Sweden 2-1, Switzerland 7-2, U.S. 3-0.
The U.S. college boys fought hard all the way against the Soviets. But the U.S., like the Canadians, were playing an un-European brand of hockey and were hog-tied by penalties (15 minutes to the Soviets' two). For this, like the Canadians, they were hooted by the crowd at every turn. One American player trying to turn an attacking Russian away from the goal misaimed a chop with his stick and thwacked Russian Forward Babitch across the glove. With a loud "Ach!" Babitch crumpled and lay writhing. They couldn't have done it better at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. The German crowd immediately sided against the unfair Yankee. Across the rink rolled cries of "Americans go home." Holding his arm, Babitch was carried off the ice. Shortly thereafter, the German announcer told the crowd over the public address system that Forward Babitch had only been scratched. The announcer did not explain why a man with a scratch on his arm could not skate off the ice unassisted. As the tournament progressed, German fans grew more friendly toward the American team, however. Word got around that the U.S. and Sweden were the only honest-as-shooting amateur teams in the event.
By the day before the decisive Soviet-Canadian game, the standings of the other teams had already been decided: third place went to Czechoslovakia, fourth to the U.S., fifth to Sweden. Germany, Poland, Switzerland and Finland followed in that order.
That left the big game to decide the order of the first two places. At game time, an over-capacity crowd of 9,000 filled the Krefeld ice arena—this at prices that ranged from $2 to $8. When the V's skated onto the ice they showed that even old hockey players could be taught new tricks. They lined up and gave the fans a raised-stick salute, just like the Russians. Then Captain George McAvoy swapped a small Canadian flag for a Soviet pennant with Soviet Team Captain Bobrov.
'OFF TO SIBERIA WITH YOU!'
With the starting whistle the V's acted more like their old selves again. For one thing they racked up 12 minutes in the penalty box to the Russians' two. The first Canadian score came early in the first period, on a shot by Mike Shabaga. In the 28th minute of the game, Bill Warwick shot from close to the Soviet goal, and his shot caromed off a Russian player's stick and into the nets. Four minutes later Shabaga scored again. In the first minute of the third period Bill Warwick made it 4-0 from close in, and two minutes later George McAvoy sent a long sizzler into the Russian nets for 5-0. That was all for the Soviets' first-string Goalie Potchkov. The Soviet coach pulled him, right then and there. He was followed off the ice by the hooting of Canadian fans: "Off to Siberia with you!"
As the goals came, so rose the tempo of the game. The Canadians checked harder and harder and the Russians seemed to be enjoying the game less and less. At the end the Russians barely made an effort to cross over onto the Canadian ice. When it was all over, the gashouse gang from Penticton received the big silver world trophy and the Russians the smaller European one. Honors had by no means watered down the Pentictons' common touch. They flatly turned down an invitation to a reception at the Canadian embassy in Bonn. "We've already been to one reception," said Manager Clem Bird, "and didn't like it. It's just eating a lot of cheese squares. We got better things to do."
But for Canadian fans who swarmed over the victorious team Player-Coach Grant Warwick had a whooping message: "God bless Canada. We brought the cup back home where it belongs and we'll keep it there."