One of the biggest underdog upsets in history: Poland beat the mighty Soviet national team at the 1976 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship on home ice in Katowice.
photo: Bengt Dobrin Kamerareportage
Teams are listed as favourites or underdogs because they are considered more or less skilled than their opponents. And, yes, favourites most often win the games, but every now and then an underdog wins. Sometimes it has important ramifications, sometimes not, but regardless it upsets the order of things and creates incredible drama where none seemed to have existed.
Poland takes down the unbeatable Red Machine
The opening night of the 1976 World Championship in Katowice, Poland produced one of the greatest upsets in hockey history. That night, the unheralded hosts played the vaunted Soviets. Up to that date, the Poles had an 0-12 record against CCCP and a goals for-against record of 14-136 at the World Championship. Only twice had Poland ever scored even three goals in a game. But on April 8, 1976, Wieslaw Jobczyk had the greatest game of his life and his teammates more than contributed to the greatest moment in Polish hockey history. Mieczyslaw Jaskierski scored midway through the first period, and after his second goal, early in the second, the score was 4-1. Soviet coach Boris Kulagin pulled Vladislav Tretiak, but the goals kept coming. Jobczyk scored early in the second, and when he scored with only 20 seconds remaining in the third to make it 6-3, his hat trick complete, victory was assured. A goal by Valeri Kharlamov with five seconds remaining was moot. A 6-4 Poland win. A most incredible result. Hat trick scorer talked with IIHF.com
recently in Katowice during the 40-year anniversary of the biggest game for the country.
France beats Canada for the first time in history
The 1995 World Championship in Gavle and Stockholm, started well for France, as it beat Germany, 4-0, on opening night. Two days later, it faced Canada, a team it had never beaten at either the Olympics (0-3 going back to 1988) or the World Championship (0-5 since 1931). But France got two early goals from Philippe Bozon and J-M Soghomoniam to jump into an early lead and give Canada something to think about. Canada got one back, but at 13:26 of the opening period Christian Pouget got free and beat Corey Hirsch with a Peter Forsberg-like goal to make it 3-1. The back-breaker came in the final minute of the second period. Bozon fed Pouget inside the Canadian end, and he waltzed in untouched and made a great move on goalie Corey Hirsch. France won, 4-1, its first ever win against Canada.
Denmark ties Canada, sends USA to relegation
There were jokes and disbelief before the game, snarky comments about the format of the World Championship that allowed a minnow like Denmark to play a superpower like Canada. Ha, the critics hooted—the last time these teams played was in 1949, and Canada won by a record-setting score of 47-0. Yet by 2003, the Danes had qualified for the top level of the Worlds and had played well enough to play Canada in the Qualifying Round. Jay Bouwmeester got Canada on the board early on a routine point shot, and the early feeling was the rout was on. Incredibly, though, this was the last “routine” moment of the game. Dan Jensen tied the game on a delayed penalty, with an extra attacker, his high shot eluding Sean Burke. Just 21 seconds later, the puck came into the slot and Lars Molgaard drilled a slapshot from about three metres out, taking no chances with the great scoring chance. Just like that it was 2-1 Denmark. Although Canada tied the game late in the period, it couldn’t get another puck past Peter Hirsch. Shots favoured Canada, 42-22, but the scoreboard showed the incredible scoreline of 2-2.
In Denmark's first game, it faced the United States, a team coached by Lou Vairo and including many NHL stars, notably Phil Housley, Matt Cullen, and Ryan Miller. The Danes got off to a great start when Bo Nordby Andersen opened the scoring, but then they scored again, and again and led 4-1 after 40 minutes. Teams exchanged goals in the third, but the Denmark 5-2 victory was a remarkable result for two reasons. First, the Danes felt emboldened and later played up to their opponents the rest of the tournament, finishing a respectable 11th and earning a spot in the top level for the following year. The Americans never recovered. They lost all three games in the preliminary round and had to fight for their lives in the Relegation Round. They finished 13th, their worst result ever. A game celebrated in one country (Denmark) is one that another country (United States) would forever like to forget.
Sweden stages one of the greatest comebacks in Worlds history
A Finland-Sweden game at the World Championship is one that creates an unparalleled level of excitement in those two countries, but rare are the instances that there was both elation and agony within a two-hour span as there was the night of May 7, 2003, during their quarter-finals meeting at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki during the 67th World Championship. Sweden had been the more impressive team in the pre-playoff rounds, and Tre Kronor opened the scoring on an early goal from Mats Sundin. But Suomi, playing before a sold-out home crowd, was undaunted. Teemu Selanne scored two goals and Tomi Kallio another, and by the first intermission the home side was up 3-1. Two more goals early in the second made it 5-1, and Sweden coach Hardy Nilsson pulled Tommy Salo for Mikael Tellqvist in the hopes of doing something – anything! – to change the momentum. One Swedish goal was nothing to worry about, but by the end of the period they had scored two more, and now it was a close 5-4 game with one period still to play. Peter Forsberg got his second to tie the game, and then P-J Axelsson’s deflection of a Sundin shot with five minutes left made it 6-5 Sweden. The comeback – or collapse – was the biggest in World Championship history, and a Finnish crowd so elated for the first half of the game went home devastated by what happened in the last half.
Stefan Lassen nets the overtime winner for Denmark vs. USA
By the time of the 2010 World Championship in Germany, Denmark had been in the top pool for the eighth straight year. Its success was no longer considered a fluke, and its roster was now a world class who’s who of great players in the team’s modern era – Mads Bodker, Jesper Damgaard, Lars Eller, Peter Regin, to name but a few. The Danes started the tournament with a stunning 4-1 win over Finland, its first in tournament history over Suomi, and two days later they faced the United States. Eller opened the scoring midway through the second period, but Keith Yandle tied the game just a few minutes later on a power play. The rest of regulation time settled nothing, so teams played a five-minute, sudden-death overtime. Two minutes into that short fourth period, Kim Staal fired a sensational stretch pass to Stefan Lassen, giving him a breakaway. Lassen went in on goal and wired a shot over the glove of Scott Clemmensen for another historic win. Denmark went on to the quarter-finals and finished 8th, their best result ever.
Germany wins their first World Championship game vs Russia 2-0
The opening game of the 2011 World Championship in Bratislava was a re-match of a thrilling semi-finals game from the previous year. In that 2010 showdown, the hosts Germany were surprise qualifiers for the final four and lost a narrow 2-1 decision to Russia. And in 2011, the teams met again in the preliminary round, but this time Germany made some national history by defeating Russia for the first time in WM play after nine straight losses going back to 1993. Dennis Andras was the hero at one end, stopping all 31 shots for a most memorable shutout. At the other end, Thomas Greilinger and Patrick Reimer scored the goals – Reimer’s coming on a sensational breakaway effort – giving Germany a 2-0 win.
France beats Russia for first time ever
On the Helsinki side of the 2013 World Championship (co-hosted by Stockholm), France and Russia met midway through the preliminary round robin. Russia had won all its three games to date at that tournament, while the French had managed only one win. But on 9 May 2013, at Hartwall Arena, France made history by beating their mighty adversaries, 2-1. All the scoring came during a 10-minute burst in the second period. Alexander Radulov was stopped on a penalty shot by Florian Hardy, but just 15 seconds later Alexander Perezhogin made it 1-0 Russia. France got goals from Damien Fleury and Antoine Roussel, and Hardy was flawless the rest of the way giving France its first ever win against the Russians.
Switzerland heads to final thanks to Reto Suri
Although never a great mismatch, every time Switzerland takes to the ice against Canada it knows its chances of winning are less than 50-50. But at the 2013 World Championship in Stockholm, an early-round game between the two red-and-white nations produced a surprise hero. The Swiss opened the scoring, but Canada came back with two goals to take the lead. Nino Niederreiter, however, tied the game for the Swiss with only 6:46 remaining in the third, and overtime settled nothing. The penalty-shot shootout lasted 16 shots, and after 14 of those shots each team had scored only once. But with shot number 15, Reto Suri skated fast in on goalie Mike Smith and made a sensational deke for the goal. Canada’s Matt Duchene was then stopped by Martin Gerber, and the Swiss had only their second win against Canada at the Worlds going back to 1934.
Hungary gets first World Championship win in 77 years
For anyone who thought Denmark’s 54-year absence from the top pool of the World Championship was extraordinary, fans of Hungary can only dream of such a small gap! Indeed, when the Hungarians returned to the top pool in 2016, it had been 77 years since they last won a game with the big boys. In their only other WM appearance between 1939 and 2016 with the top teams, in 2009, they went winless in six games and were summarily demoted. In 2016, back up again after a seven-year absence, Hungary started with five more losses, but on May 14, 2016, it played Belarus and scored a decisive 5-2 victory, their first since beating Belgium, 8-1, on 3 February 1939. The game was tied, 2-2, early in the second period when Balazs Sebok and Vilmos Gallo scored in quick succession, stunning Belarus and putting Hungary in control. It added an empty netter to seal an historic victory in World Championship play.
Underdogs Switzerland takes home a silver medal
Switzerland had made it to the 2013 World Championship gold-medal game thanks to an incredible run of nine wins in a row, but in the finals the Swiss were, quite simply, outclassed by a more experienced Sweden team, 5-1. Five years later, the teams met again for gold, but the feeling was much different. The Swiss had some bad games along the way that year before beating Canada, 3-2, in a thrilling semi-finals, while Sweden won its nine games in impressive fashion to qualify for the final game in 2018 in Copenhagen. More experienced this second time, the Swiss led 1-0 and 2-1, forcing Sweden to play from behind. But a goal by Mike Zibanejad late in the second made it 2-2, and the third was goalless, forcing a 20-minute, sudden-death overtime of four-on-four hockey for gold. This also proved goalless, and a five-shot shootout was required. Sven Andrighetto scored on the first shot to give the Swiss the advantage, but Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored with Sweden’s third shot. Filip Forsberg scored on Tre Kronor’s next shot, and then goalie Anders Nilsson stopped Nino Niederreiter to give Sweden gold. Same result as 2013, but this time victory was decided by a single shot.
Newly-promoted Great Britain and Italy both stay in top division
No one could have seen this double whammy coming on the second-to-last day of the preliminary round of the 2019 World Championship in Slovakia. Great Britain and Italy had been promoted for this tournament, and as is often the case with teams coming up they are unable to play alongside the toughest competition. Both teams had lost their first six games of the seven-game round robin, and both would surely lose their final game, finish last in their respective groups, and be demoted. The start of the Great Britain-France game played right into this prediction. By the early part of the second period, France had built a well-earned and comfortable 3-0 lead against a team that had scored but five goals in six games. But two late goals from the Brits made it 3-2 after 40 minutes, and Robert Farmer scored early in the third to tie the game. Overtime was required, and – believe it or not! – Ben Davies scored at 2:03 to qualify GBR for 2020 while demoting France to Division I-A for the first time since 2007. In the other group, Italy played Austria in a game that went back and forth. After 60 minutes, though, as with the other game, the score was 3-3 and required OT. Five minutes settled nothing, and in the shootout Sean McMonagle got the winner for Italy. Incredibly, both promoted teams looking surely to be demoted won their final games to earn invitations to 2020.
During the 100-year anniversary of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship we bring you the top-100 moments in stories, photos and videos in 10 days. Check out more by clicking the chapters below: