HELSINKI – France’s stunning 2-1 win over defending champion Russia on Thursday wasn’t the first time an underdog team has shocked a major power in international hockey. Here are five other high-profile examples.
THE “MIRACLE ON ICE”
Led by head coach Herb Brooks, the United States iced a team made up of college players at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, USA. The Americans were expected to have no chance against the Soviet Union, which had won the last four Olympic tournaments and featured established superstars like Valeri Kharlamov and Boris Mikhailov, plus up-and-comers like Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov. But shockingly, the United States prevailed 4-3 on a Mike Eruzione goal and went on to win gold on home ice.
BELARUS’S SALT LAKE SURPRISE
At the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, the Swedes had cruised to a perfect 3-0 record in the Preliminary Round, including a 5-2 thumping of Canada in the opener. Nobody expected Tre Kronor to have any difficulty beating unheralded Belarus in the quarter-final. But netminder Andrei Mezin sparkled with 44 saves, and a centre-ice goal by defenceman Vladimir Kopat on Sweden’s Tommy Salo with 2:24 left gave Belarus a 4-3 upset. The Games were over for Mats Sundin, Nicklas Lidström, and Markus Näslund.
SWITZERLAND STUNS CANADA
Nowadays, Canada knows it needs to expect a battle every time it faces Switzerland. (Just witness the 3-2 shootout victory the Swiss earned earlier in this tournament.) But at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, the motherland of hockey was expected to romp over its famously neutral opponents. Instead, the hockey world was stunned when Paul DiPietro scored twice and goalie Martin Gerber delivered a 49-save performance as Switzerland defeated the defending Olympic champions 2-0. It was the first Swiss victory over the Canadians in 86 years. Canada never recovered, losing 2-0 to the Finns and the Russians (in the quarter-finals) and coming seventh.
RUSSIA’S ROUGH RIDE
With a star-studded roster that included Pavel Bure, Alexei Yashin, and Sergei Gonchar, Russia was expected to win gold on home ice at the 2000 IIHF World Championship in St. Petersburg. But instead, the hosts kept getting beaten by underdogs. Falling 3-0 to the United States was a bit of a surprise. But losing 3-2 to both Switzerland and Latvia, plus 1-0 to Belarus, was absolutely unbelievable. The Russians staggered to an 11th-place finish, the worst in their history.
WORLD OF HURT FOR THE CZECHS
At the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, Czech coach Ludek Bukac must have thought he was pretty safe heading into a matchup with Germany, the lowest-ranked of the eight participating teams. After all, the Czechs had stars like Jaromir Jagr, Robert Reichel, and Petr Nedved. But, led by a pair of Jan Benda goals, the German romped to a 7-1 victory, which denied the Czechs a quarter-final berth. The disaster would spur the Czechs on to greater things, however. Their golden years followed, with 1998 Olympic gold and three consecutive World Championship titles (1999-2001).