Author Writes About the Cold War: Czechoslovakia’s Fight in the Rink

(Courtesy of Ethan Scheiner)
Orinda resident and UC Davis professor, Ethan Scheiner, writes about the role of sports in the Czechoslovakian fight for freedom during Soviet communism in the late 1960s.

    When UC Davis professor, Dr. Ethan Scheiner began teaching a class about politics and sports in 2016, he found several cases of countries and their citizens who felt the only way they could assert themselves politically was on the sports field. His book, Freedom to Win: A Cold War Story of the Courageous Hockey Team That Fought the Soviets for the Soul of Its People—and Olympic Gold is a prime example of that type of quest.
    Scheiner grew up in Berkeley, spent a lot of time in Japan and earned a Ph.D. in political science. He was hired by UC Davis in the early 2000s with a teaching focus on political science and has resided in Orinda with his wife and children since 2012.
    “For the first decade and a half of my career, I wrote academic books and articles on Japanese party politics and elections around the world,” said Scheiner.
    While researching material for his politics and sports course, he happened upon a book chronicling Cold War-era ice hockey players and their dream of NHL superstardom. It explained how Czechoslovakia saw the 1969 World Ice Hockey Championships as a chance for revenge against the Soviet Union.
    And thus, the context for Freedom to Win was set.
    “I wasn’t actually a natural to write this book,” Scheiner said. “But I felt such passion about the story. I hope my writing will inspire people to follow their passions as well.”
    The collision of politics and sports was prompted by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The Soviets invaded the country in response to a shift in the Czechoslovakian leadership that softened communist ideals and ended censorship.“All of a sudden, they could say things without the fear of going to jail,” said Scheiner. “And they could travel to different countries, which they hadn’t been allowed to do before.” The Soviets worried the reforms and freedoms could spark a widespread uprising of other Eastern states.
    After the invasion, the Soviets re-established censorship and control in the country, When the Czechoslovakian national ice hockey team faced off against the Soviet team in 1969, “the whole country just looked to the hockey team as, ‘You’re our only way to fight back,’” said Scheiner. “This is the only thing we can do.”
    Freedom to Win includes the story of the Holík brothers, hockey team members whose family butcher shop had been stolen by the Communists. Scheiner interviewed members of the brothers’ family residing in the U.S.
    The author spoke of parallels between the Czechoslovakia invasion and the recent invasion of Ukraine, calling Freedom to Win “a sad reminder that this is not the first time this has happened.” A Ukrainian publisher has reached out to Scheiner about a translated version of the book.
    He hopes his book will show readers how much sports mean to those in underdog, small towns and countries throughout the world.
    “Such people are often overlooked,” said Scheiner. “But through sports, they can show the world they exist, and they matter.”
    Scheiner will speak about the book on Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.
    Signed copies of Freedom to Win: A Cold War Story of the Courageous Hockey Team That Fought the Soviets for the Soul of Its People—and Olympic Gold are available at Orinda Books. Requests can also be made for a personalized, signed copy.

Andrea Madison can be reached at

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