SI Vault
 
WORLD HOCKEY NEVER HAD IT SO BIG
Milt Dunnell
March 23, 1959
Rabidly enthusiastic Czechs jammed every available seat to see the Canadians win the amateur championship of the world
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 23, 1959

World Hockey Never Had It So Big

Rabidly enthusiastic Czechs jammed every available seat to see the Canadians win the amateur championship of the world

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

In the end, tickets were distributed in the usual way—through sports clubs and workers' organizations. They were allotted as rewards for extra effort in the glass factory or the Skoda Works. Soldiers got them for overtime duty as members of frontier patrols.

The top price was $5—a stiff fee in an economy where the average wage is around 1,000 korun per month (roughly $30 per week at the official rate).

Scalpers reaped ridiculous profits for tickets to meaningless matches such as Switzerland vs. Poland, neither of which survived the qualifying round. Regardless of score the fans remained cheering to the end. Canada ran up a 23-0 count on Switzerland, but not a customer left his seat.

Under the Ahearne system, teams which were eliminated in the qualifying round did not lose their usefulness at the gate. They were farmed out to cities such as Kladno, Mlad� Boleslav and Kolin to battle—mostly before sellout houses—for positions all the way down to 12th place. In addition, Master Promoter Ahearne operated a sideshow tournament for hopeless teams such as Rumania, Hungary, Austria and the Czech juniors at Pilsen while the main event was in progress at Prague.

Second only to hockey tickets in demand were souvenirs and autographs. Lapel pins from the U.S. and Canada became collectors' items. Queues formed in the Vaclavske Namesti, the Broadway of Prague, when hawkers set up their stands to sell photos of competing clubs.

Canadian and American prints were sold out first. The curbside merchants were stuck with stacks of Soviet pictures after the Russians whacked the Czechoslovakians 4-3 in the roughest game of the final round.

Czech fans whistled and jeered as the two Communist countries tore into each other, hammer and sickle, before the frenzied crowd. This was one of the most embarrassing incidents of the whole tournament for loyal brothers of the lodge, particularly since the Canadians and Americans had received unflattering publicity for their rugged play in a pre-tournament tour of the Continent.

After Canada crushed Czechoslovakia 7-2 in the qualifying round, the official Communist paper Pravda complained that the Canadians had sent out Al Dewsbury, towering former Chicago Black Hawks defenseman, to intimidate the Czech team. And he was successful, Pravda confessed, because Canada swept the rink in the second period, rapping in six goals. So when Russia played her satellite, Czechoslovakia, Canadians and Americans had ringside seats to see the game played in a spirit of brotherly love. Over their heads was a propaganda slogan lettered on the rafters: "Sport for peace and friendship among nations."

Less than two minutes after the face-off one Czech player buried the butt end of his stick into Nikolai Sologubov's ribs. The 35-year-old captain of the Russian team was doubled over with pain. He shouted protests at the Czech bench as he skated slowly to his own players' coop.

Henrich Sidorenkov, who replaced Sologubov, avenged the attack on his mate. He caught Jaroslav Jirik with his hip and sent him soaring like sputnik, while aroused Czech fans practically rattled the walls with their whistles and boos.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4