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Penticton Vees celebrate 60 year anniversary of World Hockey Championship win

03/07/2015 01:13 EST | Updated 05/07/2015 05:59 EDT
The Penticton Vees are celebrating the 60 year anniversary of the team's legendary World Hockey Championship victory against the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.

The win returned Canada to the top of the hockey world after losing to the Soviets the previous year.

Ivan McLelland, the team's former goaltender, was 23 when the Vees won on March 6, 1955. In 2012 he wrote a book about the team and their win, Gold Mine to Gold Medal and Beyond.

"It has stayed with me," said McLelland. "I have no doubt of being proud of what we did. I mean, we were a bunch of kids. Everyone said weren't good enough."

Cinderella team wins the Allan Cup

The Cinderella team came into being in 1951, said McLelland, when they entered the Okanagan Senior Hockey League.

Three years later, they were national champions at the Allan Cup, a national competition that McLellan says was "the most sought-after trophy in all hockey," other than the Stanley Cup.

Having won the national trophy, the Penticton Vees were chosen to represent Canada at the World Hockey Championships.

"It was not a popular choice by a lot of people, particularly in Eastern Canada," said McLellan. "They didn't feel we were an adequate team."

McLelland said, at the time, the Okanagan was better known for growing apples and peaches than for hockey.

All eyes were on the Vees. Canada had lost the championship the year before to the Soviet Union.

"It was quite a shock to our country to be beaten, and to be beaten that badly by the Soviets who were pretty unpopular at that time," said McLellan.

As a relatively amateur 23-year-old goaltender, McLellan almost didn't get to go. Officials wanted to replace him with a more experienced player.

"Had it not been for the faith of my coach, that would have happened and I would have never gotten to play," he said.

The final showdown

At the championship, both teams won all their games leading up to the final. McLellan said the last match could have gone either way.

The Vees managed to scored in the first period, but McLellan said the players were tentative, missed a few chances to score, and got a few tough penalties.

But then the Vees scored twice more in the second period, and towards the end of that round Vees defenseman Hal Tarala checked one of the Soviet's star players — hard.

The Soviets, and the crowd, were shaken.

"Those days they didn't like that rough stuff," said McLellan.

The Vees scored twice again in the third, winning 5-0 against the "Big Red Machine."

"It was a tremendous experience," said McLellan.

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Penticton Vees celebrate 60 year anniversary of epic World Hockey Championship win

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