This Week in Sports History: 1924 Canadian hockey team brings home olympic gold

    In 1924, the Winter Olympic Games were held in Chamonix, France. Significant for Olympics history, this year’s contests would do away withy the Bergvall System — a knockout method that involved the losing teams beaten by the first-place country to compete amongst themselves for the silver medal, and those defeated by the second-place squad would fight for bronze. Instead, the 1924 overseers of the games installed a round-robin method of elimination, which increased the amount of title games played and allowed for the truly better teams to shine among their inferiors. This playoff system was a great benefit to the Canadians, who thrived off of being able to play consistently and effectively, and brought back their second hockey gold on Feb. 4, 1924.

Of all the competing nations, Canada was the only squad that had a team representing them; to the Olympics, they sent the Toronto Granites to Chamonix — who, in the 1920 Summer Olympic bout in Antwerp, Belgium, had claimed a world championship. Defending their title, they had plenty of motivation to secure a second victory for their homeland, and their strong start reflected this. Of the first group, which contained Canada, Finland, Czechoslovakia and Switzerland, the former two combined for five wins and a single loss, while the latter half only accrued a single win; Canada never lost, while Switzerland never won. In the second group (United States, Great Britain, France and Belguim), Canada’s fellow North Americans enjoyed sustained success, winning all three divisional games. Great Britain followed close behind with two wins, while France was unable to represent themselves in their home country at 1-2, and Belgium was beaten in every contest. The championship round saw the most recent game for each finalist carried over to the first round. This would set Canada and the United States at 1-0, while setting back Great Britain and Sweden 0-1.

Matchup #1 between Canada and Great Britain was nothing short of a pummeling; in fact, Great Britain would be outscored all game by what the Granites accomplished in the first period. Among three periods, the Granites scored six, six and seven goals respectively, while Britain’s paltry two goals in the first period would mark the end of their scoring as they succumbed to the professional defense of a well-trained team. U.S. vs. Sweden was even uglier — The Americans were able to completely dub the outclassed Scandinavians with 20 goals and shut out the Swedes entirely, effectively ending their chance at any medal above bronze. Feb. 2nd’s bronze medal match between Great Britain and Sweden was a tight one, as a 4-3 match ending in Britain’s favor was carried to its conclusion on the back of forward Eric Carruthers, who scored three of his team’s four goals (his brother, Colin, scored none — it’s fair to assume Eric never let him forget it).

With the bronze winner decided, only the titans were left to compete; to be fair, though, Canada’s superiority in this bout was established pre-match. Though the U.S. garnered a total of 84 goals, which was 44 ahead of third-place Great Britain, Canada blew them out of the water at 132. As a matter of fact, they outscored every goal the U.S. ever put up in the first divisional round, 85-84. The only team to ever score against the U.S. was Canada in the championship match, but it was the worst time for the Americans to let up; the first period had Canada up 2-1, but the score by forward Herb Drury gave them more than a fighting chance. Their hopes were crushed by the end of the second, though — between scores by Harry Watkins, Hooley Smith and Dunc Munro, Canada increased its lead to 5-1, and the U.S. would never score again. Canada would boost their stats with a third period goal, but it had basically been decided: the Canadians would be headed back north with a batch of gold medals and an unstoppable title defense.

Canada’s vicious offense was headed by left wing Harry Watson, who had a career as a fighter ace during WWI prior to his OHA career. Of Canada’s 132 goals, Watson was responsible for more than a third of those at 36, with 11 more points to his name coming from assists. Despite a historical performance on a world stage, Watson didn’t seem to be satisfied as a hockey player — despite an NHL offer equivalent to $150,000, he retired from the sport in 1924, only returning to the world of ice hockey as a coach much later in life. In all fairness, a literal world championship does seem impossible to top.