Hockey Central

The Canadian National Team

The Canadian National Hockey Team was established in 1963 and ceased operations in 1970. It represented Canada at the winter Olympic Games in 1964 and 1968, as well as at the World Hockey Championships in 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1969. It finished third in the 1968 Olympics and fourth in 1964. It finished third in the World Championship in 1966 and 1967, fourth in 1965 and 1969. These results were disappointing at the time. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, the national team's record began to be viewed more favorably, because by this time European teams performed very well against Canada's best professionals.

The man most responsible for creating the national team was Father David Bauer (1952-1988). Bauer had been a very good junior player at St. Michael's College in Toronto in the 1940s. (In 1944 he, Gus Mortson and Ted Lindsay were picked up from St. Mike's by the Oshawa Generals for the Memorial Cup finals against the Trail Smoke Eaters. Oshawa swept Trail in four games straight.) He considered playing pro hockey for a farm team of the Boston Bruins, and had he done so it is almost certain he soon would have joined his older brother, Bobby Bauer, who enjoyed a successful career on the Bruins famous "Kraut Line." But David decided against a pro career because he felt that as a pro athlete his intellectual and spiritual development would be stifled. He became a Roman Catholic priest, returned to St. Mike's and coached both hockey and football there.

The high point of Bauer's coaching career at St. Mike's occurred in 1961 when he led the Majors, as the College team was called, to the Memorial Cup championship. But by this time he and other influential people at St. Mike's had become disillusioned with Junior A hockey. The next year St. Mike's dropped out of the Ontario Hockey Association's Junior A series and Bauer was moved by his Basilian superiors to St. Mark's College, part of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

The main reason that Father Bauer, the St. Mike's officials and many other people across the Dominion had become disillusioned with junior hockey was that junior teams were tied so closely to, and controlled by, NHL teams. In those days NHL teams "sponsored" junior teams. Young men with hockey ability, from the age of 15 or 16, were encouraged to become the best player they could be and to leave school or at least to spend little time and energy on their studies. Too often these adolescents turned into journeymen minor professional or senior players. They discovered that they were not able to make a good living in hockey, but that they had neither the skills nor the training to begin a promising career outside the sport. They were, in a word, exploited by the people who controlled professional and junior teams.

At about the same time that Canadians became aware of the dark side of junior and pro hockey, they were coming to realize that Canada's best Senior A clubs were no longer good enough to win against the top European teams. Since the 1920s, the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association almost always had sent the Allan Cup winner to the next year's World or Olympic tournament. By the 1950s, these Senior A teams were having trouble, particularly against teams from the Soviet Union. The senior teams especially struggled at the Olympic Games, because in the Olympics, as opposed to the World Champioships, "reinstated" amateurs (former pros) were not eligible. In fact, by 1961, the year that Bauer led St. Mike's to the Memorial Cup victory, Canadian senior teams had lost the last two Olympic Games and it did not seem possible that a senior team would do better at the next Olympics, scheduled for 1964.

In 1962, there came a further indication that senior teams could no longer be relied upon to represent Canada successfully. In that year the International Ice Hockey Feberation's World Championship was held in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Neither the Soviet Union nor Czechoslovakia sent a team. They boycotted the tournament because at that time the USA did not recognize (Communist) East Germany and the Americans refused to allow East German athletics to attend. Canadians expected an easy victory for their team, but the Galt Terriers finished second to the team from Sweden.

Father Bauer attended that tournament. The games in Colorado Springs confirmed an opinion he had formed already: he could establish a team of junior or college players who could perform better than senior teams now could, especially in Olympic tournaments where the stricter standards of amateurism applied.

Bauer soon arranged a meeting with Art Potter of Edmonton and Gordon Juckes of Melville, Saskatchewan, the President and Secretary-Manager, respectively, of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. He told them of his desire to form a team of young players who would enroll at the University of British Columbia and represent Canada at the 1964 Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria. Potter and Juckes invited Bauer to present his ideas later that year to the delegates at the annual meeting of the CAGA. Bauer did so. The delegates accepted his proposal and agreed to provide some financial support. The national team was born.

The next year, in 1963, the Trail Smoke Eaters Senior A team, who had won the World Championship in 1961, finished fourth. This seemed to confirm the need for the new team for which Bauer already was recruiting. Some very good young players were coming to UBC, some of them graduates of Bauer's 1961 team at St. Mike's.

Why was the national team formed? Primarily for two purposes. The first was to provide the opportunity for young men to demonstrate, especially to pro and junior operators, that they could play high-caliber hockey while at the same time earning university degrees. The second was to give Canada better representation at World and Olympic tournaments than it had enjoyed recently or than it could expect to receive in the future from Senior A teams.

There were also two other purposes, understated perhaps, but certainly more important to Bauer than to others involved in creating the team. One was to provide a meaningful alternative to pro hockey for good players coming out of junior. Part of the reason a "second" national team was established in Ottawa in 1967 (it lasted until 1969), and part of the reason there was talk of eventually establishing a third and fourth team, was to make the "Nat" alternative available to more players. The final reason for founding the national team was to establish an institution that would contribute to national unity. Bauer often spoke of the Nats as an entity that could bring together the different ethnic, religious and regional communities in Canada. He was the chief recruiter for the team from start to finish, and the main requirement for every player he obtained was the capacity to help the team on the ice. But he also consciously sought players from all parts of the Dominion, especially those who were part of an ethnic or linguistic minority, who could help the Nats become the unifying symbol he envisioned.

At Innsbruck in 1964, the Nats nearly won the gold medal. In their final game they lost to the Soviets 3-2. Had they won that game, they would have taken the championship, but the loss left them in a three-way tie for second. As a result of a controversial, last-minute decision by the directors of the International Ice Hockey Federation, the tie was broken by considering goals for and against in all games. Canada finished fourth. (A little known-fact should be mentioned here. The International Ice Hockey Federation recognized the 1964 Olympic tournament as the World Championship tournament for that year. However, for World Championship purposes there was a different tie-breaking formula than the one used for Olympic purposes. So Canada finished third in the World Championship, but fourth in the Olympics.)

One of the members of that 1964 team was Brian Conacher. He was the son of Lional Conacher, who was chosen Canada's greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century, and after Brian left the Nats, he enjoyed a fine NHL career.

In 1970, he wrote a book entitled Hockey in Canada: The Way It Is! It still can be read profitably on a number of subjects, and one of those subjects is the national team. In 1964 he wrote that the Nats had two weaknesses. They lacked "scoring punch" and they needed a "strong rushing defenseman" who could make the key move to get the puck out of the defensive zone.

These weaknesses were evident right from 1964 through 1969. Most of the forwards were good skaters, good checkers and good passers, but none of them could really blast the puck and strike fear into the heart of a goaltender. The defensemen were terrific defensively, extremely tough to beat in one-on-one situations. But only one of them, Carl Brewer, the former Maple Leaf who played in 1967 in Vienna, was a creative passer out of his own end, and none of them had the kind of hard point shot point that was, by the late 1960s, becoming one of the prerequisites for elite-level NHL defensemen (Orr, Park, Laperriere, Stapleton).

In other words, the team was not as strong offensively as it needed to be. At the same time, it was very strong defensively. The players worked hard on their checking, and especially on mastering the checking systems that Father Bauer emphasized, systems that could bottle up any team but which did not facilitate the transition from defense to offense. Moreover, the team played disciplined hockey, which was a tribute to its coaches. Father Bauer was succeeded by Gord Simpson in 1965 and Jack McLeod from 1966 through 1969. (McLeod coached the team through most of the 1965-66 season. However, just before the World Championships, in an effort to add more offense, a decision was taken to have McLeod play. Father Bauer took over behind the bench.)

The team also received good goaltending, usually from Seth Martin, Ken Broderick or Wayne Stephenson. All three of them went on to have successful years as pros, and Martin was already a legend in Europe by 1964 because of his play with the Trail Smoke Eaters in 1961 and 1963. These strengths allowed the Nats to compile a surprisingly good record over the years against teams from minor professional leagues (15 wins, eight losses, five ties, according to Conacher) and even against NHL teams (four wins and six losses). They also allowed the Nats to stay close to the top European squads, but seldom to beat them.

After the Olympics of 1964, the team was moved from Vancouver to Winnipeg. The latter was close to Central Pro League teams who had indicated a willingness to play exhibition games. It also had a very fine arena, built in 1955, and no pro team as a tenant. Some of the Nats who had enrolled at UBC now transferred to the University of Manitoba. They joined members of the Winnipeg Maroons, the Senior A team that had won the Allan Cup in 1964. The amalgamation never worked. Some of the Maroons were not good enough to play top-level European teams. Some of the Nats from Vancouver concentrated too much on their university studies and not enough on hockey. The World Championships that year were held in Tampere, Finland. The Canadian team finished fourth, and deserved to.

In 1956-66, some good young players joined the team in Winnipeg. They soon became competitive with the Soviets, especially after several games against them on the December-January tour across the country that was becoming more or less an annual affair. In Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, at the World Championships, the team finished third. In those years only four teams could really expect to win a medal: the Swedes, Czechs, Soviets and Canadians. Canada finished ahead of Sweden but behind the other two contenders. The lack of scoring was evident in the 3-0 loss to the first-place Soviets and the 2-1 loss to the second-place Czechs.

After the loss to the team from Czechoslovakia, an incident occurred that nearly destroyed the team. The refereeing in that game had been atrocious, even by the very low standard of European officiating at the time. In the dressing room immediately following the match, and then back at the team's hotel until early in the morning, the players and other members of the team, along with some member of the press and even a diplomat, debated whether or not to quit the tournament without playing the final game against the Soviets. Had the players decided not to play, the national team would have died right there, and probably the players would have been suspended by the CAHA. The incident has been summarized capably in a number of places, especially in the very good books on international hockey of Scott Young (War On Ice) and Jim Coleman (Hockey Is Our Game!). Only one new piece of information will be added here.

This is that the man who convinced some of the players they should stay was Dr. Jack Waugh of Winnipeg. Jack Waugh and Reid Taylor were the volunteer team doctors. They were like volunteer team doctors on dozens of top-level amateur teams in Canada in the days before medicare: sometimes they were paid for their services, sometimes they were not, and they were much, much more than pill pushers and stitchers. They were friends of the players, and no doctor was ever a better friend to his teammates than Jack Waugh was on the night he stood up in a crowded hotel room in Ljubljana and spoke quietly of the players' "moral obligation to the Canadian people."

In 1967, the Nats had their strongest team, Carl Brewer was on that squad. So was Jack Bownass, who had played tough hockey for about 15 years in various senior and pro leagues, including the NHL, and who played extremely well for the Nats. The team won the CAHA's Centennial Invitational Tournament held in Winnipeg early in January during Canada's 100th year. In the World Championship held in Vienna, however, the Nats finished third once more, and again they could have used more firepower. In seven games, they scored 28 goals, but only a total of two came in the three games against the Swedes, Czechs and Soviets.

In 1968, the team that prepared for the Olympics in Grenoble, France, was nearly as strong as the team of 1967. Brewer and Bownass were former pros and therefore were not eligible, but Brian Glennie (who later played for the Toronto Maple Leafs) was added to the defense. There were also good new forwards in Gerry Pinder, Herb Pinder Jr. and Steve Monteith. And then there were the players who had been around for two or three years or even longer (not all of them actually played in the Olympic tournament): Broderick and Stephenson in goal; Barry Mackenzie, Paul Conlin, Terry O'Malley, Gary Begg, Marshall Johnston on defense; Gary Dineen, Ray Cadieux, Fran Huck, Roger Bourbonnais, Morris Mott, Danny O'Shea, Ted Hargreaves, Bill MacMillan and Jean Cusson up front. In the early games they beat the Americans, the East Germans and the West Germans, as expected, but suffered a surprising loss to the Finns. Then they beat the Czechs 3-2 and the Swedes 3-0. The final game would be against the Soviets. A win would mean the gold medal. A loss or tie, because of the way the tournament had evolved and especially because of the loss to Finland, would mean the bonze.

The Soviets won 5-0. The Nats actually played a solid game, but they hardly had a good scoring chance against a team which, except in goal (where Victor Konovakenko was not as strong as his successor, Vladislav Tretiak), was not noticeably weaker than the Soviet team that competed against the NHL's best in the Summit Series in 1972.

After the 1968 Olympics, many players from the national team moved on to professional hockey or to other careers. Those players who remained concentrated, perhaps too much, on their university classes. Some good young players joined either the Winnipeg or Ottawa teams: among them were Bob Murdoch, Steve Carlyle, Jack Taggart, Jim Irving, Ken Stephenson, Ab DeMarco, Bill Heindl, Richie Bayes, Chuck Lefley, Terry Caffery, Steve King, Kevin O'Shea, and (at the World Championships in Stockholm) Ken Dryden. Many of these players became outstanding professionals, but in March 1969 they were not ready to take on the best Europeans. In the Stockholm tournament that year, six teams played a new double round-robin format. Canada won each of its two games against Finland and the United States; Canada lost each of its two games against Czechoslovakia, Sweden and the Soviet Union. The Canadians scored 26 goals in their 10 games, whereas the Czechoslovakians scored 40, the Swedes 45 and the Soviets 59. In the six games they played against the medal-winning teams, Canada scored only nine times.

Already, by the time this Stockholm tournament was played in 1969, big changes in the organization and administration of the national team had occurred. In 1968, Pierre Trudeau replaced Lester Pearson as Prime Minister. Trudeau and his government were very conscious of the role that success in international sports could play in gaining international prestige and in fostering national unity. In 1968, Trudeau announced the creation of a Task Force on Sport. Among other things, the Task Force would suggest ways in which Canadian performances in international competition could be improved.

As far as hockey was concerned, the main recommendation of the Task Force was acted upon by the federal government even before the official report was released. Hockey Canada was established in February, 1969. It was composed of representatives of the federal government, the CAHA, Canada's NHL teams, the NHL Players' Association and eventually both the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union and, later, the World Hockey Association. It was given two responsibilities. One was to foster the development of hockey (especially the skill level of players and the competence of coaches). The other was to manage and operate the teams that represented Canada in international tournaments. In order to carry out the latter job, Hockey Canada would work with the CAHA, which held the Canadian vote in the International Ice Hockey Federation, but the CAHA would follow directions from Hockey Canada. Of course, since it was represented on the board of directors of Hockey Canada, the CAHA could help shape the instructions that Hockey Canada gave.

Hockey Canada had more money to support the national team than the CAHA had ever been able to devote to it. The players' allowances went up considerably. In fact, in some cases (depending on individual circumstances and especially the number of dependents a player had) the allowance more than doubled. However, there was more pressure on the players to win than ever before and less concern for academic progress.

Hockey Canada also had a mandate from the federal government to work towards more "open" tournaments: that is, to convince the International Ice Hockey Federation that Canada should be allowed to use professionals in international play, and to convince the IIHF also that the state-supported amateurs of the Communist countries were really professionals. In the summer of 1969, partly because the 1970 World Championships were to be held in Winnipeg and Montreal, a majority of delegates at the IIHF annual meeting agreed to allow Canada to use as many as nine minor-league pros for this one year. Then the whole amateur-professional issue would be studied with a view to finding long-term solutions.

However, early in January, 1970, the IIHF's executive council decided to reverse the decision to allow Canada to use professionals. Just why this happened is not exactly clear. It may be that some members of the IIHF were legitimately concerned that players who competed against the Canadian pros in 1970 would be declared ineligible for the Olympic Games in 1972 and later. It may be that the Soviets and others were concerned by the strong showings that the national team, bolstered by pros, made in tournaments in Leningrad and Moscow in September and December respectively. Whatever the thinking of the various European nations was, the repercussion for Hockey Canada was that it would not be allowed to ice any professionals. Hockey Canada immediately canceled the tournament (it was rescheduled for Stockholm) and announced that for the time being Canada would not participate in international hockey.

There was no longer any need for the national team. A few commitments to play games in Canada were honored, but the national team essentially was defunct on January 4, 1970 – the day Canada pulled out of international hockey. The players soon went into pro hockey, or finished their education with financial assistance from Hockey Canada, which helped all members of the team complete their degrees.

Did the national team fullfill the purposes for which it had been established? The answer has to be a qualified "yes." In some ways it contributed to national unity; certainly there are people in Newfoundland who say that when their own George Faulkner played so well in the national team that went to Ljubljana in 1966, they felt more Canadian than they ever had. And the team did provide an alternative to pro hockey for good junior players who were not sure-fire NHLers. Moreover, it seems clear that the team did represent Canada better than Senior A team could have in the mid to late-1960s. Above all, it did provide a place through which good players could show that they could play a high level of hockey which succeeding in school. Several Nats became teachers, some became businessmen, a few moved into the front office of professional hockey teams, a couple became civil servants, at least half a dozen became lawyers and one became a medical doctor. The national team certainly proved that education and hockey could be combined.

In 1979, a new national team was formed by Hockey Canada. It still exists. But the new national team never has had the same purposes and roles as the old team of the 1960s because of the immense changes that took place in Canadian and international hockey in the 1970s and 1980s.

The members of the post-1979 Nats often have been university students. However, since the 1970s, young players have been able to combine hockey with education in many ways, and usually the national team was not the best way, as it had been in the 1960s. For one thing, the new Nats had to do far more traveling throughout the hockey season than the old Nats ever did, so the new Nats generally had to be part-time students, or students taking a year off school. Moreover, by the late 1970s and the 1980s, university hockey had improved immensly, and many universities provided scholarships or bursaries for hockey players. Finally, by the 1970s and 1980s, junior operators had a much more enlightened attitude toward education than they had shown in the 1950s and 1960s. Some junior teams even helped pay tuition for their players at a university or community college.

In a strict hockey sense, too, the new national team was different than the old. Except in the Olympics of 1980, in which the team failed to advance to the medal round but performed much better than its results indicated, the team no longer represents Canada in the most important international competitions. Since 1972, the Europeans had shown they could play against the best Canadian professionals. By 1977, the IIHF World Championships had become completely open to pros and between 1984 and 1988 the Olympic Games gradually became so. This meant that the modern national team became a squad used by Hockey Canada to represent Canada at significant but second-level tournament (such as the Izvestia tournament in Russia) and, because of the high-quality coaches the Nationals have hired, a team used by pro clubs to develop players who need top-class skill development and playing time against talented opponents.

The national team of the 1960s had more complex and occasionally contradictory responsibilities. It's probable that Father Bauer asked the team to accomplish too much: to obtain a higher education, to serve as a unifying force for Canadians, to offer an alternative to NHL farm systems and to compete with the best European national teams.

The young men who were on that team succeeded to some degree in fulfilling Bauer's expectations. For doing so, they received – and they deserve – respect that stops short of veneration.