1964 Canadian Olympic hockey team to be honoured

The International Ice Hockey Federation will honour a Canadian hockey team robbed of an Olympic medal more than 40 years ago.

At a meeting in Innsbruck, Austria on Friday, the IIHF, international hockey's world governing body, announced it will have a ceremony later this year to present the 1964 Canadian Olympic hockey team with a world championship bronze medal.

In 1964, the Olympics also served as the world championship, unlike today where the tournaments are separately contested. Though Team Canada played well enough for a podium spot that winter, a last-minute rule change gave the Olympic bronze to the team from Czechoslovakia, leaving Canada out in the cold in Innsbruck, Austria.

Forty-one years ago, the players on Team Canada – the country's first true national team – were convinced the Olympic bronze was theirs. The team finished the Olympic tourney with a 5-2 record, along with Sweden and Czechoslovakia.

If officials stuck with the original tie-breaking formula, Sweden would have taken silver and Canada bronze, with the Czechoslovaks finishing fourth. But behind the scenes, John "Bunny" Ahearne was getting busy.

The then-head of the IIHF, Ahearne gathered a small group of officials before the medal ceremony and changed the tie-breaking formula, which dropped Canada off the podium.

"I think it was arbitrarily to get at Canada," said Murray Costello, Canada's representative on the IIHF Council.

"There was still the feeling that Canada was sending in club teams and walloping some teams pretty heavily there and it was starting to begin to balance out with the Russians coming on, some of the good teams, but there was still a feeling of "get Canada if you can."

Although headlines in Canada's newspapers screamed about the "bitter controversy" and labelled the outcome "ridiculous," the incident soon dropped out of sight.

The story seeped out of the public's consciousness in the ensuing decades. But the issue was recently unearthed by a CBC producer working on an upcoming history of hockey series, which sparked a chain of events that led to the IIHF review.

The producer noted a discrepancy in Canada's official placing at the 1964 Games and the worlds. The record books showed the Canadian team finished third at the world championship but fourth at the Innsbruck Olympics, which should have been impossible because the tournament was one and the same.

After the incident was rediscovered, the movement to right an old wrong gathered steam.

Whether Canada will get an Olympic bronze medal is unclear. A push for an Olympic medal would likely have to come from Hockey Canada, the governing body for amateur hockey in Canada. A spokesmen for the organization told CBC Sports Online that probably won't happen.

A statement by Hockey Canada regarding the IIHF ruling is expected on Saturday.