Since the iconic 1972 Summit Series played between Canada and the former Soviet Union, the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has played a significant role in growing the sport internationally.
While North American fans have the opportunity to follow players up close, the NHLPA has focused on giving players the same level of visibility around the world, particularly through international competition. The NHLPA’s membership reflects the sport's global diversity: in any given year, 23%-33% of NHL players are European. International events are an opportunity for these players to promote hockey in their native lands while paying tribute to their roots. Below are some historic and ongoing NHLPA-affiliated international hockey events.
1972 Summit Series
National hockey teams from Canada and the former Soviet Union went head-to-head in an eight-game series in 1972. Now known as the 1972 Summit Series, Canada emerged victorious after an epic comeback, winning the last three games in a row to take a 4-3-1 record after Paul Henderson scored “the goal heard around the world” in the final game. Not only did the games feature the two dominant hockey nations of their time going head-to-head, the series served as a foundation for future international tournaments featuring NHL players.
The Canada Cup
After the success of the 1972 Summit Series, an international tournament was established to give the world’s other elite hockey-playing nations a chance to put their best players together on the ice. The tournament was named the Canada Cup and took place in Canada in 1976, 1981, 1984, 1987 and 1991. Team Canada enjoyed the home-team advantage, winning each event except 1981, when the former Soviet Union captured top honors. The International Ice Hockey Federation's (IIHF) list of Top 100 Moments in hockey's history include three Canada Cups, with 1976 (6th), 1981 (9th), and 1987 (20th) being remembered as particularly legendary events.
Challenge Cup and Rendez-Vous 1987
On two occasions, the NHL replaced the traditional All-Star Game with an international series featuring an all-star lineup of NHL players competing against the national hockey team of the former Soviet Union. In 1979, the Challenge Cup saw the Soviets best the NHL all-stars, winning two out of three games at Madison Square Garden in New York. The concept was revived for Rendez-Vous 1987, a two game series played in Quebec City, Quebec. The two game series was split, with each team winning one game. The Challenge Cup and Rendez-Vous 1987 were the clear highlights of an era between 1975 and 1991, when members of the NHLPA and various Soviet teams squared off against each other in several mid-season exhibition games.
Ice hockey has been featured in the Olympic Games since 1920, but NHL players were not able to compete in the tournaments until 1998. Since their Olympic debut at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan, NHL players have become a fixture of the Winter Olympics. The Czech Republic (1998), Canada (2002, 2010) and Sweden (2006) have won gold medals since 1998, with 145 NHL players representing each of the tournament’s 12 participating countries (Belarus, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Norway,Latvia, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States) at the most recent 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada.
The World Cup of Hockey
Launched in 1996 as a joint effort between the NHLPA and the NHL, the World Cup of Hockey is a "best on best" tournament that takes place outside the NHL hockey season. As a result, national teams can field the strongest roster possible and include their best players, many of whom are NHLPA members. The United States defeated Canada to capture the first World Cup of Hockey tournament in 1996. The tournament returned in 2004 and Canada proved victorious on home ice, defeating Finland in a hard-fought final.
Beginning in 2007, the NHLPA and the NHL joined forces to open the NHL Regular Season with games in some of Europe's best hockey markets. Known as NHL Premiere, it has featured exhibition games with European club teams and Regular Season contests between NHL clubs. NHL Premiere has given hockey fans in Berlin, Helsinki, London, Prague and Stockholm the opportunity to watch regular season NHL action in their hometowns, and, overall, over 40 Exhibition and Regular Season Games have been staged in 11 European countries since NHL Premiere began in 2007.
IIHF World Championships
Each spring, the IIHF organizes the Ice Hockey World Championships where 16 national teams compete for the annual title. NHLPA members make up the bulk of many team rosters, as the passion to perform on behalf of their native countries adds an undeniable level of excitement to the tournament. Russia defeated Slovakia 6-2 to capture the gold medal at the 76th World Championship in 2012, held in Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden.