The 1962 Ice Hockey World Championship was placed under threat before it even began due to severe political unrest. When action finally got underway, Great Britain and Australia both created national history and Sweden fashioned their own piece of iconic hockey history.
The performance of Great Britain in the 2019 IIHF World Championships will go down in the history books and shall be a long time remembered.
It was the first time Great Britain had competed in the top tier of World Championship hockey in 25 years and just the third time in the nation’s history.
The 1994 campaign was largely forgettable. A roster jam-packed with dual nationalities, the oldest in the tournament, were dominated in all five outings, out-scored 44-7 and unceremoniously relegated.
What is rarely spoken or written about is the 1962 GB team. They were the first to play in the top tier of world hockey though that came about in very different circumstances.
The 1962 World Championships due to be hosted in Colorado Springs and Denver, USA, almost never took place.
The event was placed in jeopardy due to the political situation in Europe.
When the Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961 by East Germany to prevent its citizens from fleeing to the West, NATO responded with travel restrictions which prevented the East Germany national ice hockey team from attending the World Championships.
Canadian Amateur Hockey Association president Jack Roxburgh was quoted as saying the following in an interview with the Medicine Hat News (published February 3, 1962).
“Politics and sports shouldn’t be mixed.”
“NATO may have a solid reason for not granting the permits to the East Germans because of the Berlin crisis. ”
“They know their rules better than we hockey people. However, the action isn’t helping the goodwill we (Canada) fostered while our teams competed in play behind the Iron Curtain.”
Roxburgh added, “The International Ice Hockey Federation, which is protesting the move to NATO, will have to stand as a unit, or the tournaments will be in jeopardy.” [Both Group A and B were being hosted in the USA].
The result was that the USSR and Czechoslovakia both opted out of the tournament in protest and failed to compete in the World Championships along with East Germany.
There were three spots to fill so elevated from Pool ‘B’ were Norway and Great Britain who were the top two teams from the previous year.
The third and final spot was filled by a qualifying game between the only remaining ‘B’ pool nations.
That game between Switzerland v Austria began just a day before the ‘A’ tournament and was won comfortably by the former with a scoreline of 9-4.
Great Britain’s roster was comprised of players from England and Scotland with only Tony Whitehead originally from Canada.
At 22 years of age, Terry Matthews was the youngest member of GB’s squad and I asked him for his recollections of the tournament.
Matthews almost didn’t make it to the USA, due to a cruel injury blow.
The Whitley Bay native was named the best young British player in 1961 and was duly informed he would be going to the USA the following year to represent his country.
He was only the first reserve however and having broken a leg in November of 1961 the prospects of the forward taking part looked slim.
A miraculous recovery combined with Jimmy Spence (a highly rated goal scorer who Matthews said would have made a huge difference) not being able to make the trip to the states, ensured that Matthews would be headed to North America for the first time in his life.
On February 24, 9162 Great Britain flew from London Heathrow to Amsterdam, where they joined Sweden, Norway and Switzerland on a flight to New York.
Two teams disembarked in the Big Apple but GB stayed on the flight which disembarked in Chicago.
The British national team stayed in the Windy City for a few days and played exhibition games against the Madison Cardinals, Muskegon Zephyrs and a team from Des Moines.
Great Britain was invited to watch an NHL game between Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins.
Matthews noted to me that getting to watch Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull and Sam Nikita in the flesh was a real thrill.
The local television station got wind of the GB team being at the game and duly spoke with Matthews, asking “what are you going to do after watching such a great game?”
With typical British self-deprecating humour, Matthews replied “Burn my skates!”, in reference to the level of play being above and beyond he felt he could ever dream to attain.
In truth, the squad selected by the British hockey association and player-coach Johnny Murray were rank outsiders and considered to be cannon folder even without the notable absentees due to the political crisis.
Games were played at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs and Denver University’s home rink.
Great Britain began the tournament on March 8, 1962, in Colorado against ‘qualifiers’ Switzerland and prospects were looking good as they led 2-1 after twenty minutes.
The game would be tied at two apiece through forty minutes and a strong finish by the Swiss saw them down GB by a scoreline of 6-3.
Great Britain’s mood wasn’t probably helped by the other scores that day as the USA pummelled Norway 14-2 and Canada swept aside Finland 8-2.
The following day saw Great Britain spring the shock of the tournament as they recorded a very unexpected victory against Finland.
GB were down 2-1 after twenty minutes and continued to trail by a single goal at the second intermission.
An inspired third-period performance saw the underdogs net four times to claim a 7-4 victory.
As per Matthews, the historic win, Great Britain’s first in the top tier of World Championship hockey, was enjoyed that evening: “We weren’t quite as professional as players are today and had quite a few beers to celebrate!”
In their third game, GB would hold Norway scoreless through twenty minutes but would suffer a heavy 12-2 defeat, which was a foretelling for how the result of the tournament would pan out.
A 9-0 reverse to West Germany was followed by a 12-5 loss to the United States before Great Britain would come up against the two best teams in the competition.
Sweden went to town on GB, leading 14-0 after forty minutes but eased up in the final frame adding just a further three goals.
Matthews was hugely impressed by the Swedish team and in particular Sven Tumba (Johansson), Ulf Sterner and Nils Nilsson.
Tumba was the first-ever European to attend an NHL training camp with the Boston Bruins in 1957 though he would never play in the league. He still holds the scoring record of 186 goals (in 245 games) for the Swedish national team. A remarkable man, Tumba also represented his country at football and after he finished with that sport and hockey, dedicated his life to golf. He is credited with popularising golf in Sweden and designing many Swedish courses.
Nils Nilsson led the tournament in goals (12) and points (8) and was named the best forward at the 1962 World Championships. He also played football to a high level, winning a domestic championship with Djurgården IF.
Ulf Sterner would play in the NHL for the New York Rangers during the 196-65 season but featured in just four games. The physicality of North American hockey was an alien concept to Sterner (hitting wasn’t permitted in the offensive zone in European hockey) and despite success at the AHL level with Baltimore Clippers, he would return to Sweden the following season.
Matthews (Whitley Warriors) and Sterner (London Lions) would cross paths again in the 1973-74 season as the Swedish forward suited up for a single season in the UK.
Canada was Great Britain’s last opponent, except it wasn’t Team Canada as we know it now.
Galt Terriers represented Canada but did feature a pair of notable former NHL players including Jack McCleod and two-time Stanley Cup champion, Tod Sloan.
Canada swept aside Great Britain 12-2 in what was their penultimate game but it would prove a frustrating tournament for them as they missed out on the gold medal.
The competition was a straight league format and the standings determined the medals.
The vital game took place on March 13 between Canada and Sweden.
Sweden were underdogs against Canada having never beaten them in Olympic or World Championship play but built themselves a 4-0 lead in the second period.
Despite a valiant comeback by the North Americans an empty-net goal from Nilsson secured a victory made probably even more famous by the play-by-play radio commentary from legendary announcer Lennart Hyland.
Say the words “Den glider i màl” (“It slides into the net”) to a Swedish person and they will almost certainly refer to Hyland’s commentary of the aforementioned goal.
The above video shows all the goals from that historic game and finishes with Sven Tumba talking about his memories.
Here is a translation of what the Swedish forward says – “I remember it so clearly after the game, as they played the Swedish national anthem- it’s very touching, really is. You can’t contain the tears yourself. And along with seeing these Canadians, as they raise the Swedish flag and the national anthem plays, not the Canadian one as you have always heard previously but the Swedish one. When you hear that one, and see these Canadians, who are the opposite to a lot of other teams who would be mad. They are not mad. They cried. Loads of them cried- just because they were giving up the World Champions title to us. It was a moment that you.. Wow.. Yeah you can not even describe it. ”
Sweden’s 22-year-old net-minder Lennart Häggroth was named goaltender of the tournament with a perfect 5-0 record and a .912Sv% only bettered by his team-mate Kjell Svensson who posted two shutouts.
According to Terry Matthews, Great Britain’s Derek Metcalfe was named the second-best goaltender of the tournament and in his opinion is the best between the pipes he has ever seen for the national team.
A 0.791 save percentage isn’t anything to be excited about but when you consider the level of opposition and how much rubber he faced, it’s impressive that his numbers were better than Risto Kaitala of Finland, Rene Kiener (Switzerland) and both Norwegian goaltenders.
In the ‘B’ pool played at the same time as the top tier, there was some history made as the Australian team recorded their first-ever victory.
After suffering some catastrophic defeats, Australia netted four times in the second period against Denmark to down their European opponents by a 6-2 scoreline.
08 March Great Britain 3-6 Switzerland
09 March Finland 5-7 Great Britain
11 March Great Britain 2-12 Norway
12 March Great Britain 0-9 West Germany
14 March United States 12-5 Great Britain
15 March Sweden 17-0 Great Britain
17 March Great Britain 2-12 Canada
I owe a debt of gratitude to the following people who made this article possible.
In no particular order, a huge thank you to Terry Matthews, Paul Matthews, Craig Simpson and Ida Forssell.
All images featuring Great Britain were kindly donated by Terry Matthews.