The Big Six in men's international ice hockey are the six national teams that have been dominant in competitive play throughout the history of international hockey and especially since the 1950s. The group is composed of the North American countries of Canada and the United States, and four European countries: Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden. Before the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Union/CIS and Czechoslovakia held the places of Russia and the Czech Republic. The four European members are sometimes referred to as the "European Big Four" or "Big Four", especially to distinguish them from the North American teams.
Out of the 204 IIHF World Championships medals awarded, only twenty have been won by teams outside the Big Six and only five of those have been won since 1953 (four by Slovakia, one by Switzerland). Of the 69 Olympic ice hockey medals awarded, only 6 have not been won by a Big Six team.
|Finland|| Soviet Union/
Canada and United States seldom have their best players available for the IIHF World Championships, due to the conflicting time-frame of the NHL. Typically the only players available are College hockey players, NHL players whose teams have failed to make the Stanley Cup playoffs and players who play in other leagues such as the AHL and SHL. The World Championships are not widely broadcast on television in North America, and have a generally weak following there. Despite this, the Canadian and American teams that compete in the World Championships are still normally easily able to defeat European teams outside of the Big Six, with a few possible exceptions, such as Slovakia and Switzerland.
Only the tournaments since the formation of the modern Czech Republic team are shown above.
The Canada Cup served as an ice hockey world championship that was governed by NHL rules rather than IIHF rules, and was contested in the NHL off-season so that NHL players could participate. The 1976 Canada Cup was, therefore, the first time that the best players from every country were able to meet on the ice. The tournament was held five times between 1976 and 1991. Only one team outside of the Big Six, West Germany, was ever allowed to compete in the Canada Cup; this occurred in 1984.
The World Cup of Hockey replaced the Canada Cup after the fall of the Soviet Union. It has been held three times so far, in 1996, 2004 and 2016, and will be held every four years thereafter. Eight teams compete at the World Cup: Germany and Slovakia played the first two editions, whereas a Team Europe and an under-23 Team North America played in 2016.
|Year||Canada||Czechoslovakia||Finland||Soviet Union||Sweden||United States|
|1981||2||3 (tie)||6||1||5||3 (tie)|
|1984||1||5||-||3 (tie)||2||3 (tie)|
|1987||1||3 (tie)||6||2||3 (tie)||5|
|1991||1||6||3 (tie)||5||3 (tie)||2|
|Year||Canada||Czech Republic||Finland||Russia||Sweden||United States|
|1996||2||7 (tie)||5 (tie)||3 (tie)||3 (tie)||1|
|2004||1||3 (tie)||2||6||5||3 (tie)|