Did you know the the very first Olympic hockey tournament was held in the summer games?
Prior to the creation of the Winter Olympic Games in 1924, hockey got it's Olympic debut at the Games of the VIIth Olympiad in Antwerp, Belgium back in 1920. Other first in these Olympics: this was the first time an athlete took the Olympic oath, the introduction of the Olympic flag, and the first ever releasing of doves from the stadium as a symbol of peace.
Canada joined Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States in the seven team tournament. The champion was decided using an incredibly complicated series of knockout tournaments to determine medals and order of finish.
The Flying Falcons
Represented by the Winnipeg Falcons, Canada won the first ever Olympic gold medal. Rather than choosing some sort of all star team of Canada's top amateur hockey players, the Canadian Olympic Committee opted to have the Allan Cup champions, the top amateur team in the country, represent the nation at the Olympics. The Winnipegers, most of Icelandic heritage, defeated the University of Toronto team to earn the right to compete.
Canada won the tournament rather easily. The Swedes showed up wearing speed skates and short sticks, prepared to play bandy. Bandy was a very popular sport in Europe those days, and an early form of hockey, though there are too many differences between the two sports to accurately call bandy as the precursor to hockey. The Czechoslovak were said to "run on their skates with clumsy movements" and "their play is all individual." Yet, they played well enough to win the bronze medal.
The only team to offer any competition to Canada was the United States. The US team sported a few Canadian born players, and, unlike their European counterparts, all their players were well versed in the Canadian game of ice hockey. Herb Drury and Frank Goheen were the two most notable players on the silver medal American team. Canada, who won 15-0 against Czechoslovakia and 12-1 against Sweden, squeaked out a 2-0 victory over the US.
Canada was powered by captain and future Hockey Hall of Famer Frank Frederickson, giant stick handling wizard Slim Halderson, and speed skating champion Mike Goodman. The trio combined to score 24 goals in 3 games.
But the goal that clinched the first ever Olympic gold medal in the sport of ice hockey came off the stick of little known Chris Fridfinnson.
The Useful Sub
Born Kristmundur N. Fridfinnson, Chris was a substitute forward. Known as "the useful sub" because he could play multiple positions and tended to score goals in the rare times he was allowed to hit the ice, Fridfinnson's biggest goal turned out to bet at 1:55 of the first half in the Canada vs. Sweden game on April 26th, 1920. Having replaced "Huck" Woodman at old rover position, Fridfinnson gave Canada an early 2-0 lead, but it would prove to be the game winning goal in a 12-1 Canadian romp. The victory ensured Canada was the winner of the first series of knockout tournaments, and therefore the winner of the Olympic gold medal! It was his only goal of the Olympic tournament
The Baldur, Manitoba native was on top of the world, having just become Allan Cup champion and an Olympic gold medalist. He would continue to play amateur hockey in the city of Winnipeg until 1929.
Life Off The Ice
Upon retirement, Fridfinnson relocated to Edmonton, Alberta where he became head coach of the University of Alberta's hockey team. Prior to his arrival, the varsity team was a perennial also-ran, but under Fridfinnson's guidance the team quickly improved, competing in city finals in both 1930 and 1931. Fridfinnson was dubbed "The Miracle Man" for his contributions and leadership.
Fridfinnson fell seriously ill in 1931, and stepped down as a coach. He moved back to Winnipeg where he found work as an accountant. However in 1937 he once again fell ill, and remained in hospital until his early death on November 10th, 1938.
Chris was not the only Fridfinnson on the Winnipeg Falcons team. His 2 year older brother William (also known as Bill) served as the team's secretary treasurer for many years.