A classic David & Goliath tale, complete with colorful heroes, cold-hearted villains, and nail-biting games—with the hockey rink serving as an arena for a nation’s resistance.
During the height of the Cold War, a group of small-town young men would lead their underdog hockey team from the little country of Czechoslovakia against the Soviet Union, the juggernaut in their sport. As they battled on the ice, the young players would keep their people’s quest for freedom alive, and forge a way to fight back against the authoritarian forces that sought to crush them.
From the sudden invasion of Czechoslovakia by an armada of tanks and 500,000 Warsaw Pact soldiers, to a hockey victory over the Soviets that inspired half a million furious citizens to take to the streets in an attempt to destroy all representations that they could find of their occupiers, Freedom to Win tells a story that ranges from iconic moments in history to courageous individual stories. We will witness the fearless escape by three brothers who make up the core of the national team. We will experience thrilling world championship games. We will watch as one brave player takes a stand and leads ten thousand people in a tear-filled rendition of the Czechoslovak national anthem amid chants of “freedom!” while a revolution rages in the streets of Prague. And we will cheer as the team takes on its nemesis one last time with the Olympic gold medal at stake.
At the heart of Freedom to Win is the story of the Holíks, a Czechoslovak family whose resistance to the Communists embodied the deepest desires of the people of their country. Faced with life under the cruel and arbitrary regime that had stolen their family butcher shop, the Holík boys became national hockey icons and inspirations to their people.
Filled with heart-pounding moments on the ice and unforgettable slices of history, Freedom to Win is the ultimate tale of why sports truly matter.
About the Author
Ethan Scheiner is Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Davis. His previous books include Democracy without Competition in Japan and Electoral Systems and Political Context. He now teaches and writes on the intersection of politics and sports. His writing on sports and political resistance has appeared in the Washington Post, Stars and Stripes, Politico, and The Daily Beast.
“What makes Freedom to Win so intriguing is the way it is framed. Scheiner’s book weaves hockey and world history magnificently. As he spoke with Martina Navratilova, Scheiner got his inspiration for the book’s title. ‘Those games meant everything to us. They gave us hope. They gave us a sense that we still had the freedom to win.’” — The Hockey News
“Many readers will be familiar with the time in Eastern Europe’s history centered around the Prague Spring, but fewer will know how hockey played a part in the Czechoslovakian people’s resilience. Scheiner deftly interweaves the story of Czechs and Slovaks forming a national hockey team. Much more than a book about hockey. Will appeal to hockey fans and readers interested in the relationship between sports and patriotism.” — Library Journal
"Ethan Scheiner’s Freedom to Win is a masterwork of narrative nonfiction. The research, attention to detail, colorful characters, and riveting history combine to create a remarkable book that’s impossible to put down. While the story of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the 1969 world hockey championships may mean skating on new ice for many readers, the stirring tale of resistance to authoritarianism is both universal and timely. More than a hockey story, Freedom to Win brilliantly illustrates the transcendent power of sports in moments of crisis." — Andrew Maraniss, New York Times bestselling author of Strong Inside, Games of Deception, Singled Out, and Inaugural Ballers
“Just as war is said to be diplomacy by other means, sport can be war by other means, never more dramatically so than in the epic ice hockey games between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia in the 1969 World Championships. A more timely story, in the light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, is hard to imagine. Grippingly told, packed with rich characters, the book’s intimately narrated climax comes seven months after Soviet tanks rumbled into Prague, stifling Czechoslovakia’s attempt to break free from the hardline repressive rule the Soviets had imposed upon it. Freedom to Win is a classic tale of revenge, but much more. It is a celebration of courage, hope and human dignity, a story for the ages that needed to be told, especially right now.” — John Carlin, New York Times bestselling author of Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation
“Had Freedom To Win been delivered by a Hollywood screenwriter, it would have been regarded as fine fiction. But Ethan Scheiner's work is the real thing. History at its gripping best. Individual stories of heroism help this wonderful work shine a bright light on a history too long overlooked.” — Stan Fischler, The Hockey News and member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame
"Ethan Scheiner’s Freedom to Win is, at once, the inspiring tale of a family caught in the maw of the Cold War, and a riveting underdog story about how sports have the power to transcend and transform us all." — Monte Burke, New York Times bestselling author of Saban, Lords of the Fly, and 4th And Goal
"Freedom to Win is much more than the tale of the underdog Czechoslovakia hockey team taking on the Soviet juggernaut on the ice after the Red Army crushed the 1968 Prague Spring. While focusing on hockey, it manages to tell the entire modern story of the Czechs and Slovaks and their remarkable quest for freedom. This highly readable book deserves to make Czechoslovakia's "Miracle on Ice" as familiar as the better known (at least to American fans) U.S. hockey triumph at the 1980 Olympics." — Max Boot, Washington Post columnist and New York Times bestselling author of The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam