July 8, 1969 – Crans-sur-Sierre, Switzerland
The IIHF’s summer Congress of 1969 provided arguably the most substantial and dramatic rule changes in the history of international hockey. Aligning the game with the NHL, the IIHF voted to allow body-checking in all areas of the ice. Previously, hitting was allowed only in the defensive zone. A defenseman, inside his blueline, could hit an attacker. But the forward was not allowed to bodycheck a defenseman in his defensive zone. The neutral zone was a “demilitarized zone” – no hitting allowed.
The rule was designed to ensure the safety of defencemen skating back into their own zone to chase down loose pucks. Over time, however, it became clear that hockey was a game designed for equal rules all over the ice, and by allowing hitting everywhere the IIHF ensured a more fairly played game.
The historic rule change was approved on July 8 in the Swiss village of Crans-sur-Sierre. It was the Swedish delegation that pushed hard for the reform and they had done so in three previous congresses. But on each occasion (1960, 1963 and 1966) they lost the vote. IIHF president Bunny Ahearne was always against the implementation as he feared that ice hockey would become “a sport for goons”.
The bodychecking rule, which had remained in place for nearly half a century of international hockey, was suddenly gone.
Today, it seems very strange that hitting was forbidden in certain parts of the ice, and indeed the game changed significantly when this rule was instituted. For starters, Canada and USA could play a more aggressive game. After all, a vital part of hitting is intimidation and forcing errors and turnovers, and this is more easily done in the offensive end than between the bluelines.
For the North American teams, the rule change also meant there was one less adjustment to make. To this day players will take about the “European ice” producing a different kind of game, and such was also the case with hitting. If a player is allowed to hit everywhere and then plays in a World Championship and is all of a sudden penalized for what was normally an acceptable hit that is an adjustment that alters his effectiveness and his ability to play at an optimal level.
For Europeans, the rule also meant making a permanent adjustment. They would have to be prepared for physical contact all over the ice. This meant not only taking hits but delivering hits as well, learning when and how to hit in the offensive end, learning how it can be used as a strategy and an effective style.
Without this rule in place, there is little doubt that Swedes Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom could have even attempted to play in the NHL, when they became European pioneers in 1973. This rule changed paved the way for the historic interaction between the IIHF world and the NHL; the 1972 Summit Series between the Soviet Union and Team Canada.
The first IIHF World Championship that was played under the new rule was 1970 in Stockholm. Ironically, the team that would have benefited the most from the rule change was not there. Canada withdrew from international hockey before the event and did not play again until 1977.
As part of the IIHF's 100th anniversary celebrations, www.IIHF.com is featuring the 100 top international hockey stories from the past century (1908-2008). Starting now and continuing through the 2008 IIHF World Championships in Canada, we will bring you approximately three stories a week counting down from Number 100 to Number 11.
The Final Top 10 Countdown will be one of the highlights of the IIHF's Centennial Gala Evening in Quebec City on May 17, the day prior to the Gold Medal Game of the 2008 World Championship.
These are the criteria for inclusion on this list: First, the story has to have had a considerable influence on international hockey. Second, it has to have had either a major immediate impact or a long-lasting significance on the game. Third, although it doesn't necessarily have to be about top players, the story does have to pertain to the highest level of play, notably Olympics, World Championships, and the like. The story can be about a single moment — a goal, a great save, a referee's call — or about an historic event of longer duration — a game, series, tournament, or rule change.