Archive for 1976 OG Innsbruck

Pospisil Allowed To Play On

FRANTISEK POSPISIL, defenseman and captain of the Czechoslovakia national team, representing the title-winning host nation at the medal ceremonies for the 1972 IIHF World Championships in Prague.

FRANTISEK POSPISIL, defenseman and captain of the Czechoslovakia national team, representing the title-winning host nation at the medal ceremonies for the 1972 IIHF World Championships in Prague.

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One of the most curious episodes in the history of ice hockey at the Winter Olympics coincided with the 1976 Innsbruck Games in Austria.

Following the third leg of the final round-robin the 31-year-old Czechoslovak captain, FRANTISEK POSPISIL, was among the players chosen at random to provide a sample to International Olympic Committee officials for anti-doping tests.

CZECHOSLOVAKIA, expected to challenge the Soviet Union for supremacy in the Tyrolean Alps, had just defeated their Warsaw Pact allies and northern neighbors POLAND 7-1 to remain unbeaten and untied. Pospisil, appearing at his third Winter Olympic Games, scored no goals in the match but did provide one assist.

The team physician of the Czechoslovak ice hockey squad, DR. OTTO TREFNY, immediately admitted that Pospisil had been given codeine to combat a viral infection. An outbreak of influenza had descended upon the Olympic village in Innsbruck and several of the Czechoslovak puck men had been affected. Later, it was disclosed that morphine, in addition to codeine, had been found in Pospisil’s sample, as well.

The International Ice Hockey Federation had formulated an anti-doping policy in the summer of 1969 and a drug-testing policy was initially implemented at the 1972 Winter Olympic Games in Sapporo, Japan. Two years later, at the 1974 World Championships in Helsinki, the IIHF had its first doping cases to contend with. Both center ULF NILSSON of Sweden and goalie STIG WETZELL of Finland had tested positive for the banned substance of ephedrine over the course of the tournament.

At Helsinki, the IIHF penalties were severe as both players upon failure were immediately expelled from competition and suspended from international play for eighteen months. The matches affected by the positive drug test results — Sweden’s 4-1 victory over Poland and host nation Finland’s 5-2 upset of Czechoslovakia — were overturned. In each instance, a 5-0 defeat for the offending player’s team went into the record books.

At the 1976 Winter Olympic Games, however, Pospisil’s failed drug test was, indeed, handled differently by the IIHF and IOC officials in Innsbruck.

The player Pospisil was allowed to continue to compete in the ice hockey tournament. The team doctor Trefny was, initially, banned from the Olympics for life. Czechoslovakia was stripped of its 7-1 win over Poland and instead assigned a 1-0 defeat; the Poles, significantly, were not given the corresponding victory in the standings at Innsbruck.

“The flu epidemic cannot be used as an excuse for breaking the rules,” announced PRINCE ALEXANDRE DE MERODE, the president of the IOC’s medical committee.

“Instead of punishing people who have taken medicine against the flu, the commission should have taken steps to stop the flu,” responded the coach of the Czechoslovakia ice hockey team, KAREL GUT.

Apparently unaffected by the Pospisil affair, the Czechoslovaks defeated their neighbors from West Germany 7-4 in the fourth round to set a winner-take-all showdown with their Eastern-bloc arch-rival, the Soviet Union.

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No Big Ned For Czechoslovaks

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VACLAV NEDOMANSKY (14) signals a goal for Czechoslovakia, left, and skates for the Toronto Toros in the WHA, right.

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There can be little doubt that VACLAV NEDOMANSKY would have been picked to play for Czechoslovakia at the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria.

Unfortunately for Czechoslovak coaches KAREL GUT and JAN STARSI, however, the 32-year-old goal-scoring machine had bolted the Eastern bloc in the fall of 1974. The one-time Slovan Bratislava center was now taking his regular shifts for the Toronto Toros in the World Hockey Association. Although the powerful Czechoslovak ice hockey program did enjoy a relatively deep player pool from which to draw talent, Nedomansky’s loss was still significant.

Nedomansky, who had been chosen to the media All-Star squad at three IIHF World Championships, had scored 63 goals in 65 games for Czechoslovakia his last seven major international tournaments before defecting.

To this day Czechoslovakia’s all-time leader with 163 goals (from 220 international matches), Big Ned continued to pile up large numbers of lamp-lighters upon landing in North America.

The Olympic season of 1975-76, Nedomansky scored no fewer than 56 goals in 81 games for the Toros in the WHA. And, for any concerned that scoring came too easy in the old World Hockey Association, Nedomansky thereafter added campaigns of 38 and 35 goals, respectively, for the Detroit Red Wings in the late 1970s despite his ever-increasing age.

It is hard to state with certainty exactly what impact Vaclav Nedomansky would have had for Czechoslovakia at the 1976 Winter Olympic Games. It is easy to conclude Nedomansky would have, in all statistical likelihood, netted at least a few goals for his country had he competed at Innsbruck.

Whether or not Nedomansky would have definitely made a difference for Czechoslovakia in the 1976 Gold Medal Match with Soviet Union will always be open to speculation.

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Salming-Less Sweden Skips

Toronto Maple Leafs' NHL All-Star defenseman BORJE SALMING (5) discusses matters with his older brother, defenseman STIG SALMING (8) of IF Brynas Galve, in preparation for the 1976 Canada Cup.

Toronto Maple Leafs' NHL All-Star defenseman BORJE SALMING (5) discusses matters with his older brother, defenseman STIG SALMING (8) of IF Brynas Galve, in preparation for the 1976 Canada Cup.

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In the fall of 1972, defenseman THOMMIE BERGMAN earned a place in the Detroit Red Wings line-up and, in doing so, became the first Swedish player to ever skate regularly in the National Hockey League.

The 25-year-old from HC Vastra Frolunda in Gothenburg was just the first of what would be the new wave beginning in the mid-1970s of Scandanavian players to sign with professional NHL clubs and their rivals, those of the World Hockey Association.

Eight members of Sweden’s entry at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo signed pro contracts in North America within the four-year period leading up to the Innsbruck Games of 1976.

What’s more, the professional clubs were signing other Swedes, as well, most notably young defenseman BORJE SALMING. At the conclusion of the 1974-75 schedule, Salming started a streak of six seasons where the Swede was chosen for either the First or Second Team NHL All-Star Team. Salming endured much intentional physical abuse along the way and is credited with effectively opening the door for other Swedish players in the NHL.

The Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association went out of their way to sign Scandanavian players. Winnipeg inked four Swedes and two Finns for the 1974-75 campaign and then acquired Bergman from Detroit in the NHL during the season. The following year, an Olympic one at that, the Jets added still another pair of Swedes and proceeded to claim the WHA championship powered by the line of BOBBY HULL, ULF NILSSON and ANDERS HEDBERG.

By the start of the 1975-76 season, a dozen former Sweden national team players were under agreement with NHL or WHA clubs and would, therefore, be both unavailable as well as ineligible for the Innsbruck Games to be held in Austria that winter.

TORD LUNDSTROM, who had returned to IF Brynas Galve in Sweden after a year with the Detroit Red Wings and the experimental London Lions in England, was also banned from Olympic competition.

Of course, another former London Lion, ULF STERNER, had long ago attained personna-non-grata status at the Olympics. Sterner was the first Swede to skate in the NHL after playing four games for the New York Rangers during the 1964-65 season. The by-then 34-year-old former captain of Tre Kronor was now playing second division hockey in Sweden for HC Backen and no longer was considered for the national team, however.

The rest of the Swedes outside of Sterner were another matter. Sweden’s hockey officials, like those of Canada had been for years, were frustrated by the inability to use their ‘professional’ players. Like the nation that originated the sport of ice hockey, Sweden questioned the purpose of fielding a squad of pucksters for the competition at the ‘amateur-only’ Winter Olympics.

Joining the continued Canadian boycott, Sweden sent no team to the Innsbruck Games in 1976.

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Innsbruck ’76 : Kuehnhackl Carried West Germans

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Left: ERICH KUEHNHACKL, the all-time leading scorer for the West German national team, finished among the points leaders at the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck.

Right: Kuehnhackl in action for EC Koeln in the West German Bundesliga. Kuehnhackl joined die Haie (the Sharks) the season following the Innsbruck Games and spent three campaigns in Cologne. 

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To this very day, it is by far the finest moment in all of German hockey history.

The 4-1 victory by West Germany over the United States on the final day of competition at the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck. It was an inspirational third period that propelled the West Germans to take the bronze medal in Austria. Three goals from 22 shots in the final frame following a solitary strike from sixteen shots the first two sessions combined had done the trick.

The chief magician for the match was the Czechoslovak-born ERICH KUEHNHACKL. The genuine giant of the era who stood 6’6″ not including skates towered over the occasion by scoring the first West German goal and assisting on all three third period goals. RAINER PHILLIP, ALOIS SCHLODER and ERNST KOEPF were the noteworthy marksmen to find the net and finish Kuehnhackl’s creations.

Mention must be made, as well, of West German goaltender ANTON KEHLE, who made 35 saves in the match with the United States.

Four points on the final day gave Kuehnhackl 10 points (5 go 5 as) in the five-game final round-robin. Ten points tied the 25-year-old EV Landshut center with three other players from the Soviet Union for the tournament lead. Officially, the USSR’s Vladimir Shadrin finished as the top scorer by virtue of his six goals.

More importantly, West Germany benefited greatly from the tie-breaking rules that were used to determine third place at Innsbruck in 1976. Rather than rely on goal differential from all games, as was traditional, only the results involving the three deadlocked nations – Finland, West Germany and the United States – were factored. The Finns would have cause to feel hard done by.

The West Germans, led by coach XAVER UNSINN, celebrated third place all the same and accepted the set of bronze medals with glee.

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Innsbruck ’76 : Holecek Held Off Finland

JIRI HOLECEK (2) is easily one of the most accomplished goaltenders in the history of international hockey. Holecek captured three titles ('72, '76, '77) at the annual IIHF World Championships for Czechoslovakia and was chosen to the media All-Star team five times ('71, '72, '73, '76, '78).

JIRI HOLECEK (2) is easily one of the most accomplished goaltenders in the history of international hockey. Holecek captured three titles ('72, '76, '77) at the annual IIHF World Championships for Czechoslovakia and was chosen to the media All-Star team five times ('71, '72, '73, '76, '78).

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Perhaps Finland had saved some of the spark from their 4-3 upset victory over Sweden on the final day at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo. Or maybe it was MATTI RAUTIANEN’s five goals versus Japan in their qualification game at Innsbruck that had fired up the Finns. Whatever the case, Finland certainly put forth a concentrated effort against powerful Czechoslovakia on the opening day of final round-robin play at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Austria.

Forty-seven shots in all Suomi fired at their opponent’s goal. Unfortunately for the Finns, standing in front of the Czechoslovak net was none other than JIRI HOLECEK. The 31-year-old veteran international was already a three-time winner (’71, ’73, ’75) of the IIHF Directorate’s award for Best Goalie at the annual World Championships. PERTTI KOIVULAHTI was the only Finn who would manage to put a puck past the Sparta Prague goaltender.

Holecek handled the other 46 shots effectively as JIRI NOVAK’s two goals helped the Czechoslovaks avert a major disaster derailing their bid to challenge the Soviet Union for gold medal supremacy at Innsbruck.

Holecek handed in a clean sheet for Czechoslovakia’s next match, a 5-0 defeat of the United States, to follow up. That would turn out to be the only shutout registered by any of the six teams in the final round-robin at the 1976 Winter Olympic Games.

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“Holecek is the best goalie in the world – better than (Vladislav) Tretiak, (Ken) Dryden or (Bernie) Parent.” — BOBBY HULL at the 1976 Canada Cup

 JIRI HOLECEK would collect two more Best Goalie awards at the annual IIHF World Championships, in 1976 and 1978, and finished his career with an all-time high of five such selections.

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