Picture this.

An amateur hockey team from Penticton led by an unheralded
22-year-old goaltender from South Porcupine, Ontario travels to Germany and humiliates the Soviet Union’s best skaters to win the World Championship, reassuring the western world that all was right with democracy and hockey once more.

Fact or fiction?

This is the true story of Ivan McLelland, puckstopper extraordinaire.

After completing his minor hockey career, Ivan McLelland attracted the attention of New York Rangers GM Frank Boucher, who promptly assigned the young goaltender to the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Hockey League. Since Vancouver already had one goalie and backups weren’t used in those days, in 1951, McLelland was sent to play with the expansion Penticton Vees of the Okanagan Senior A Hockey League, where he would stay for six and a half seasons playing 392 games.

In 1953-54, McLelland played every minute of the 102 exhibition, league, and playoff games for the Vees that season. After losing the Allan Cup the previous year, this time Penticton was not to be denied as McLelland led the Vees past the Sudbury Wolves in seven games erasing a 3-1 Sudbury series lead.

As the top senior amateur team in Canada, the Vees were chosen to represent Canada at the 1955 World Championships in Krefeld, Germany. The Vees cruised through the first seven games winning all by a cumulative score of 61-5, matching the 7-0 record posted by the Soviet Union, the rising force in international hockey having defeated Canada for the world title the previous year 7-2.

The importance of this final game is hard to fathom today with the thawing of Cold War tensions. If the 1972 Summit Series is considered the height of the long-running battle between the two dominant world hockey powers, the 1955 Worlds must be considered the opening of hostilities. Quite simply, winning this game was of the highest national importance.

Despite being questioned for his lack of experience, McLelland was spectacular for Canada, making a number of key saves and backstopping the Vees to a 5-0 shutout of the powerful Soviets. Over the course of the tournament, McLelland posted four shutouts and compiled a stingy 0.75 goals against average, helping Canada restore its hockey honour—for a year at least.

Following the World Championship, Dick Irvin of the Montreal Canadiens courted McLelland to come play in the Canadiens farm system behind the likes of Hall of Fame keeper Jacques Plante. McLelland chose family over possible fame. Not wanting to disrupt his settled family by moving East, McLelland turned down Irvin’s offer and retired from competitive hockey at the age of 26. He spent the next eight years coaching minor hockey in Penticton.

“To be honest, those years I spent coaching were probably my most gratifying from a hockey standpoint,” said McLelland.

He coached the first-ever Midget AAA BC Championship for Penticton, which featured McLelland’s son Dave, who played briefly in the NHL, and was captained by current Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson.

Fifty years have passed since this unlikely tale took place and gold medals have since been won and lost. But the remarkable career of a young Penticton puckstopper has lost none of its lustre.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.