On this date in 1990, the International Ice Hockey Federation hosted its first ever sanctioned international women’s hockey tournament, paving the way for the sport to be played at the Olympics.
Running just under a week and featuring some of the most decorated women in the sport, the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Women’s World Championship would lay the foundation for the growth of women’s hockey in both North America and around the globe.
Though it came to fruition in 1990, the seeds for the tournament were planted in 1987. The Ontario Women’s Hockey Association hosted a seven-team tournament with the hopes of convincing the IIHF of establishing an official tournament for women, as they had done for the men since 1930.
Consisting of Canada, Ontario, the United States, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, the tournament featured plenty of pace, skill and scoring, with teams combining for an average of nine goals per game.
Canada wound up defeating Ontario in the gold medal game, with the United States topping Sweden for bronze. Dawn McGuire and France Saint-Louis played pivotal roles in team Canada’s run, with the duo earning MVP and leading scorer honors respectively.
Saint-Louis would become a titan of women’s hockey. Suiting up for Canada in international play for the next decade, Saint-Louis collected five IIHF gold medals and an Olympic silver medal at the 1998 Nagano games. Following her retirement, Saint-Louis established her own hockey school and still remains involved in the growth and development of the women’s game today.
Due to the triumph Saint-Louis, McGuire and all their fellow athletes, the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association successfully lobbied the IIHF. Three years later, Canada would host the first ever officially sanctioned international women’s ice hockey tournament.
The stage is set
On March 19, 1990, Canada, the United States, Japan, Finland, West Germany, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden gathered in Ottawa to decide who would become the inaugural international champions of women’s hockey.
From a gameplay standpoint, the 1990 tournament proved to be just as explosive as its predecessor, with teams combining for nine goals or more in 17 of 20 games. Team USA lead the scoring surge, racking up 38 goals through their first three games during the group play stage.
Aside from the offensive output, the tournament was also notable for its physical edge. The 1990 tournament marked the first and only IIHF women’s tournament to feature body checking.
European women’s leagues allowed bodychecking at the time, so the competing nations from Europe asked that it be included to curb the skill advantage that the USA and Canada had over the rest of the squads. The IIHF obliged, but have since banned the practice in all international play.
Following group play, Canada, the United States, Finland and Sweden advanced to the medal round. Canada would take home the gold just as they did in 1987, defeating the United States 5-2 in the final round. Finland also defeated Sweden 6-3 to capture the bronze. Once again, McGuire was named MVP of the gold medal game for team Canada.
Along with McGuire’s MVP efforts, the tournament featured some incredible and unheralded performances.
Team USA boasted the top three scorers of the tournament; Cindy Curley, captain Tina Cardinale and Cammi Granato with Canada’s Angela James finishing fourth. This was a big development for the United States considering Canada owned the scoring race in 1987. Curley finished with an astounding 11 goals and 12 assists in five games.
Curley and Granato would both go on to win the gold medal in the 1998 Nagano Olympics and eventually be inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame. Granato would also carve out a 15-year career with team USA, capturing 20 international medals and a Lester Patrick Trophy for contributions to US hockey. In 2010, Granato and Angela James became the first ever women to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Kim Urech of Switzerland surprised many by tying Granato for third in scoring with eight goals and six assists, finishing one point above James. Though Switzerland was a long shot for a medal finish, Urech’s play helped her team win the consolation bracket.
Goaltender Cathy Phillips was near perfect in net for Canada, allowing just three goals over the course of the tournament en route to gold. Yet the most heroic performance in net came from the unlikeliest source — Tamae Satsu of team Japan.
Though Japan finished dead last in the tournament, Satsu stood on her head, allowing just 17 goals on 143 shots. Satsu faced over 100 shots more than Phillips and nearly 50 more than the next closest goaltender. Though winless in the tournament, Satsu finished first in saves and second in save percentage behind Phillips, earning a spot on the tournament’s all-star team.
The 1990 IIHF Women’s World Championship was a watershed moment in the sport of hockey. It showed that not only can the game be played by athletes of all races, ethnicities and genders, but in fact it’s better for the game when this diversity is front and center.
Approximately 9,000 fans packed in to the arena to watch the gold medal game and over one million viewers watched from home. Now 30 years later, 13,320 people filled the Honda Center to watch the USA take on Canada in the finale of the annual rivalry series, setting an attendance record for United States women’s hockey.
Icons of the women’s game today recognize the impact and power that the 1990 tournament held. Hayley Wickenheiser and Caroline Ouellette of Canada have both stated that the 1990 world championship helped change their view of their own role and future in the sport.
In the three decades following the inaugural tournament, Canada and the United States have seen a boom in registration among women and girls in hockey. USA hockey has nearly 83,000 registered female hockey players and Canada is pushing 90,000.
Today, with over 205,000 women registered to play around the world, according to the IIHF, the establishment and proliferation of women’s hockey can be traced back to this day in hockey history.
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