Fifty-three years ago the might of the Soviet Union team were the world new super-power in ice hockey winning the World Championships. Always previously known as ‘Canada’s game’ the on-ice game was changing fast as the Soviets had defeated the East York Lyndhursts of Ontario who were representing Canada. This ignominious defeat by seven goals to two sent shock waves reverberating through Canada and the world of hockey. Previous to this, mighty Canada had always sent a top amateur team to contest the competition against other nations and now the call went out for someone to restore Canada’s pride. The team selected for the task were The Penticton Vees.
Penticton is but a small (and very pleasant) town at the southern end of Okanagan Lake. Tourists visit for the fine beach and winter skiing. Although always being fond of it’s hockey, it’s probably an unlikely place to search for a team to beat the might of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the Penticton Vees were the chosen to claim back the title, the team and Canada’s reputation being seriously at stake.
The heart and soul of the Vees were the three Warwick Brothers, Bill, Dick and player/coach Grant. The trio may have almost been inspiration for Slapshot’s Hanson Brothers with their no-nonsense, rough, gruff style of play. Opinions were divided regarding the three skaters in Penticton and neighbouring towns, views being polarised due to their roughhouse tactics on the ice.
Canada’s representatives exploded through the 1955 World Championships in robust style much to the organiser’s chagrin, remaining undefeated whilst scoring sixty-one goals in just eight games and conceding a miserly six. The gold medal game was to be against the Russians loomed who were also unbeaten.
1200 spectators turned up in Krefeld, Germany to view the crunch game. Of that crowd some 1000 Canadian military serviceman were in the number and inspired the Canadians in what was a rough and hard-hitting game. The Russian’s main threat was seen as Vsevolod Bobrov, nicknamed ‘The Russian Rocket’ after the great Montreal right-wing Maurice Richard, but it was not be his day as the Canucks homed in the Russian star.
Penticton were a goal to the good with a marker from Mike Shabaga but the slick-skating Soviets continued to power forward, particularly on powerplays when the Vees had several let-offs. Canada’s goalie, McLelland was reported as steadfast as the opposition attempted some close-in plays on the Vees net. Early in the second period after dominating the play the team from the Okanagan went two-up with a flukey goal deflected by a loose stick by Bill Warwick. Canada were now well on top of a disheartened Russian team. Shabthaga and Warwick both took their tally to two for the game with George McAvoy hammering home a powerful shot from the point to seal the game at five goals to nothing. Little Penticton had won the World Championships by shutting out the Soviet Union!
The game over, overjoyed Canadian supporters in the crowd swarmed over the boards to celebrate with Penticton’s proud players. Fame awaited them on returning to Canada’s shores. A new rivalry between the two super-powers of world hockey had just begun…