HELSINKI – Antoine Roussel scored the second-period winner as France beat Russia 2-1 in one of the biggest upsets in international hockey history on Thursday. The result ended the defending champions' World Championship winning streak at 13 games.
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Damien Fleury also scored for France. This was France's equivalent of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" where U.S. college players defeated the heavily favoured Soviets at the Lake Placid Olympics.
"It’s fantastic to beat the defending champions and the best players in the world," said French coach Dave Henderson. "It’s so big for French hockey it’s hard to describe."
"We have a lot of players who play in the French league, and there's a big difference [between us and them]," said France's Vincent Bachet. "But we stayed focused and disciplined, and everything's possible. If we played them 20 times, we'd lose...19 times, I guess."
Alexander Perezhogin replied for Russia. Zinetula Bilyaletdinov’s team looked uncharacteristically sluggish and disorganized in the first two periods and just didn't wake up in time.
It was France's first victory ever in six tries against Russia at the IIHF World Championship, dating back to 1992. In their last encounter, the Russians won 7-2 on April 26, 2009 in Switzerland. Before 1992 France had never played against the Soviets in Olympic or World Championship tournaments because Les Bleus competed in lower tiers between 1952 and 1991.
Both coaches used their third-string goalies. Russia’s Vasili Koshechkin got his first tournament start in goal, and ditto for France’s Florian Hardy. (Hardy had already played part of the third period in a 3-1 loss to Finland.)
Final shots favoured Russia 29-19, and Hardy was excellent.
"I'm [Hardy's] roommate and we talked about the game a little, and he was a little nervous," said Tim Bozon. But those nerves weren't in evidence.
Russia's next opponent is Finland on Friday, while the French take on the U.S. on Saturday.
In the scoreless first period, the French got the game’s first power play and were outshooting Russia 6-2 halfway through the first. The Russians fumbled away two man advantages of their own.
At 6:42 of the second period, Alexander Radulov was awarded a penalty shot when he was hooked on a near-breakaway by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. But Hardy made a brilliant glove save when the Russian sniper stickhandled in and went high backhand.
Just fifteen seconds later, Perezhogin drew first blood, swooping out from behind the net and surprising Hardy with a high shot that went in on the short side.
Fleury tied it up for France at 9:52, stepping in off left wing and blowing a slapper past Koshechkin’s blocker from the faceoff circle.
"After we tied the game, we knew we could do something," said Fleury.
Hardy persevered in the French goal, standing his ground when Ilya Kovalchuk powered into the slot and unleashed a quick shot.
With 3:12 left in the middle frame, France went up 2-1 as Antoine Roussel powered out of the corner to the net and stuffed a backhand through Koshechkin’s legs. Like the first French goal, it was one Koshechkin would like to have had back. But it was a superb effort by the French squad's only NHLer, who suits up for the Dallas Stars.
Inspired, the French continued to storm the Russian net and nearly earned a two-gap lead with a couple of close-in chances.
Near the six-minute mark of the third, Koshechkin made a fine close-in save on Damien Raux to keep his team within one. France kept checking closely, giving Russia few bona fide chances. The Russians weren’t moving their feet well.
With 11 minutes left, Russia went to the power play, with Raux called for a slash on Russian assistant captain Alexei Tereshenko. But although Radulov and captain Ilya Nikulin tested the French netminder, they couldn't find the back of the net.
Russia squandered more precious time when defenceman Yevgeni Ryasenski was sent off for hooking a deftly stickhandling Fleury in the Russian zone with under eight minutes left.
After the Ryasenski minor expired, Sergei Soin had a fantastic chance in front of Hardy's cage but couldn't get it past his glove.
Sensing victory was in their grasp, the French skated and checked with all their might as the clock ticked down. Koshechkin went to the bench for the extra attacker with just over a minute left. The best Russian chance came when Radulov, standing in front of the net, backhanded the puck just wide of the open side.
The French called a timeout to ensure they didn't mess things up after taking an icing call with a handful of seconds left. They didn't. At the final horn, they leaped on to the ice and celebrated with unfettered jubilation, hopping up and down together in a cluster as they dislodged Hardy's net.
"I think [the Russians] underestimated us a little, but that's their problem," said Bozon. "We never gave up, and I think we played a good game."
Both sides played without regulars. French captain Laurent Meunier missed his second straight game after going back to Geneva for the birth of his child. Russia’s Alexander Svitov sat out with an injury.
Bachet wore the "C" for France in Meunier's absence.
"Maybe when I'm 60, I'll tell my grandchildren how I was the captain of the team who beat Russia in the World Championship," said Bachet. "It's special."