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All over the world, when people think of hockey they think of Canada. Many people believe that hockey was invented in Canada. Today, hockey is played in many countries and some of those countries have been playing hockey for a long time.
In 1908, Belgium, Great Britain, France, Switzerland and Bohemia formed what is known today as the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). Two years later, in 1910, the first European championship was held in Switzerland and Great Britain won. Canada and the United States joined the IIHF in 1920.
Canada first competed in international hockey during the 1920 Summer Olympics in Belgium. (There were no Winter Olympics in those days.) The Winnipeg Falcons were sent to represent Canada and they won the gold medal. Canada had won the first World Championship in hockey!
Four year later, the Toronto Granites were sent to the first Winter Olympics. Held in France in 1924, this was the first official Winter Olympics hockey tournament and the Granites brought home the gold. For the next 30 years, Canada continued to take top place, even though they used only amateur players.
In the meantime, people in the Soviet Union were playing a game called bandy, in which players hit a ball with a curved stick. Bandy was played on frozen soccer fields. The game was developing players with great skills and it was not long before the Soviet Union had a great hockey team of its own. The Soviets played their first World Championship in Sweden in 1954, and won the gold medal. Between 1954 and 1991, the Soviets won seven Olympic and 19 World Championship gold medals. The Soviet Union broke up at the end of 1991 and there was not enough time for all the new countries to send separate teams for the 1992 Olympics. Instead, the best players from each country from the former Soviet Union played for one team that was called the "Unified Team". The Unified Team won Olympic gold in 1992.
Canada and other countries had been asking for new rules that would allow professional hockey players on their teams. The Canadians argued that the Soviet team's amateur players were actually professional, because playing hockey was their full-time job. At the 1970 World Championship, Canada was not allowed to use minor league professionals. Canada decided not to go to the championship and did not return until 1977, when the IIHF decided to let professional players compete.
As it turned out, the new rule to allow professional players to compete was not much help. World Championships, always held in Europe, took place at the same time as the National Hockey League (NHL) playoffs. This meant that only the players who didn't make it to the playoffs could play in the World Championships. Canada was not able to win another gold medal until 1994.
Both Canadian and American fans wanted to watch a competition where the best players in the world had a chance to play against each other. For this reason, Canada began hosting its own international tournament, the Canada Cup, in 1976. Countries from around the world were invited to compete for the Canada Cup in 1976, 1981, 1984, 1987 and 1991. Canada won all the events except the one in 1981, losing to the Soviet Union. The World Cup of Hockey, hosted by the NHL, took over in 1996. The United States won the World Cup in 1996 and Canada won in 2004.
NHL players played in the Olympics for the first time at Nagano, Japan in 1998. The Czech Republic won. Fifty years after Canada had won its last Olympic gold, Canada won gold once again at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, U.S.A.
Today, there are lots of opportunities for players from many different countries to compete. The IIHF has members from 63 countries. The Federation organizes World Championships for men, women, juniors and players under 18 years of age.
There have been eight World Championships for women and Canada has won every one of them! Women's world hockey began at the 1998 Olympics in Japan. Team USA beat Team Canada for the gold medal. Four years later at Salt Lake City, Canada won the gold medal. Canadian women are great hockey players!
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