Ice hockey is just two years shy of spending a century within the offerings of the Olympic Games. The first men’s ice hockey tournament was held at the 1920 Belgium games, but in the summer. It was moved to the Winter Olympics with the following games at the 1924 edition in France. The women’s tournaments took quite a while longer, only skating into a permanent part of the Olympics three decades ago in 1988.

How It Worked

Prior to 1988, Olympic ice hockey tournaments were started as a round-robin tournament instead of an elimination tournament, according to the rules of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). Every team played each other, rather than teams getting matched up in an elimination bracket. Accumulated points during the round robin were used to determine who won the medals.

Rule Changes for the Men

After the 1988 Olympics, tournament style changed more to match that of the National Hockey League (NHL) instead of the IIHF. The reasoning for the change was that the gold medal winner had often been decided before the final game, making it less relevant and exciting for fans. With the NHL’s playoff format, players and fans were more engaged, and the competition was met with even more enthusiasm.

Renewed Hope With the “Miracle on Ice”

The one exception to the waning enthusiasm was the “Miracle on Ice” from the 1980 Olympic Games. Even though the Russians were expected to win, the hope of the underdog American team made this one of the most-watched ice hockey games ever in the Olympics. The Russian team was made up primarily of professional-level players, while the American team was basically a bunch of rookies. But that didn’t stop USA from taking the gold. The winning 20-foot wrist shot by Mike Eruzione, the USA captain, gave everyone new hope.

Women’s Hockey Gets Even Better

In 2010, the rules for the women’s ice hockey competitions were changed to match those of the men’s. This made for even more fan excitement. And at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, the women’s Canadian team made a stunning comeback in the final four minutes. Down 2-0, the Canadian team scored with three minutes left on the clock and then again to tie at just under a minute. In a grueling overtime session, Canada scored eight minutes and 10 seconds in, winning the gold at home.

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