Teams: Canada, Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia), Finland, Russia (Soviet Union), Sweden, United States of America.
Method: Using the best on best tournaments of the Canada Cup, World Cup of Hockey, and the Olympics since 1998 to and ranking there to determine if a country is a true hockey power. These results may be skewed by bad luck due to small sample size. The number of golds is not the only qualifier as top 2/3 placements also matter (some tournaments only have top 2 available with semi-finalists listed).
I have weighted gold medals/wins (some tournaments only did first second) as 3 points, silver medals/runner up as 2 points, and bronze medals/semi-finalists are worth one point.
Criteria: Best on best tournaments are only qualified as tournaments that all the players are available to play in. This eliminates the World Championships.
NHLers did not go to the Olympics until 1998 and because of the timing of the World Championships there was no tournament to pit the best players in the world against each other in a tournament hosted by Canada. After Canada lost to the Soviet Union in 1981 Canada changed the format to a three game series as the final.
Wins: Canada 4
Soviet Union 1
Runner Ups: Canada 1
Soviet Union 1
United States 1
Conclusion: Canada was dominant at the time of the Canada Cup. Finland was very weak in the competition, amassing only three wins in 21 games. I do not know enough about Finland's hockey history to draw conclusions about this, I will say that they would appear to be a late emerging hockey power. The other countries were well balanced with all but West Germany finishing as a runner up.
World Cup of Hockey
There were only two World Cup of Hockeys, spaced eight years apart. The results from them include the semi-finalists so those results will be recorded as a third place finish.
Wins: Canada 1
United Sates of America 1
Runner Ups: Canada 1
Third Place: Czech Republic 1
United States 1
Conclusion: Canada is still the dominate team, though their dominance is waning. We see the emergence of the United States and Finland in the top tier of competition. The Czech Republic is still able to hang in the top tier as well. Russia seems to be in a recovery following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the changes to their sports system (remember they did not have a true national league from 1992-1996. Sweden was a country that had some great players (hello Forsberg) but the seemed to struggle in this tournament.
The NHL has been to four Olympics and there has only been one team to win gold more than once: Canada. All the Olympic tournaments but Vancouver 2010 were played on big ice. There has been one team to win the tournament twice and a surprising amount of diversity in the medal winners.
Gold: Canada 2
Czech Republic 1
Silver: Finland 1
United States of America 2
Bronze: Czech Republic 1
Conclusion: Canada has a bad reputation on big ice but they did win gold in 2002, so that should be put to rest. They are the only team with multiple gold medals at the Olympics but they have no medals of any other so colour, even though they played for bronze in 1998, losing to Finland. The Czech Republic has two medal (gold and bronze), the bronze coming eight years ago in Torino. Russia won a silver in 1998 and a bronze in 2002. Though they came in fourth in Torino, they fell off the cliff in 2010. Sweden amazingly only has one medal in the Olympics and are famous for their defeat to Belarus in the quarterfinals in 2002. The United States of America has two silvers and though they have no other medals, they have done well at the Olympics.
Canada 7 golds, 1 silver (23 points overall)
Czechoslovakia/Czech 1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze (6 points overall)
Finland 0 golds, 1 silver, 2 bronze (4 points overall)
Russia/Soviet Union 1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze (6 points overall)
Sweden 1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze (6 points overall)
United States of America 1 gold. 2 silvers, 1 bronze (8 points overall)
Meaning, medal wise the standings are:
2. United States of America
3. Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic
Conclusion: Canada racked up four wins in the Canada Cup, but has won two out of the four Olympic gold medals. The United States is surprisingly second on the medal table, thanks in large part to their surprise win in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and their two Olympic silvers. The Czech Repulic/Czechoslovakia has done very well in best on best competition, tying themselves medal wise with Russia and Sweden; their downfall may be player selection and coaching. Finland has not placed in a medal position outside of the Olympics, which is surprising because they have medaled in all the Olympics outside of Vancouver.
Final Thoughts: Canada is deservingly thought of as a dominant hockey nation; in best on best competition they have only not medaled twice. The United States is often overlooked as they have been solid since 1996. Finland is consistent at the Olympics but only began emerging around 1998 in best on best tournaments. Sweden also suffers the same fate as Finland where they were late to the party, hockey wise. The Czech Republic really depends on their development system as many of their top players are getting older; if their system fails them trouble could be looming because their top players are aging.
Russia seems to be the most curious case. They have many talented players but they seemingly cannot win the best on best tournaments. With the emergence of the KHL and the pride that Russia has with selecting a team that is balanced between KHL players and NHL players. If this isn't the case and they take their best players who are playing in the NHL over KHL players who are weaker than their NHL counterparts, they may not be able to remain a contender in best on best competition. Russia's direction in regards to player selection could have a bigger impact on the top group of dominate hockey nations than the emergence of Switzerland.