10 unbelievable U18 upsets
by Lucas Aykroyd|25 APR 2022
Vojtech Doktor celebrates as the Czechs stunned Canada with a 2-1 quarter-final win at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Magnitogorsk, Russia.
photo: Steve Kingsman / HHOF-IIHF Images
Virtually nobody foresaw Latvia edging Sweden 3-2 on Day One of the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. But that historic upset was just the latest in a long list of surprising successes for underdogs at this tournament.

How do you define an upset at the U18 Worlds? Clearly, defence is not usually king and dramatic comebacks are rife among excitable teens. Normally, an upset involves one of the “Big Five” perennial contenders – the U.S., Canada, Finland, Russia, or Sweden – falling to a hopeful outsider. And as we’ll see, the latter category usually means the Swiss, Czechs, or Slovaks.

Let’s take a look back at 10 unbelievable U18 upsets.

1) 1999: Switzerland 6, Finland 1

Nowadays, if you lose 6-1 in the medal round, you’re out of gold medal contention. However, in 1999, the Finns were still able to win the inaugural U18 Worlds after this stunning defeat. They just needed a single point from their 2-2 tie with Sweden on the final day under the old round-robin format.

Interestingly, Switzerland’s 6-1 victory took place in Kaufbeuren, the German city that is co-hosting the 2022 U18 Worlds with Landshut. Luca Cereda was an offensive leader for Switzerland in 1999, equalling Marian Gaborik’s tournament-high seven assists.

2) 2000: Switzerland 3, Czech Republic 2

2000 and 2001 were the World Junior glory years for the Czech Republic (now known as Czechia) with back-to-back gold medals. And with soon-to-be NHL stars like Tomas Plekanec and Jiri Hudler on the U18 roster, the Czechs were favoured to top host Switzerland on the last day of Group A play. 

Instead, a 3-2 Swiss upset in Kloten inspired coach Beat Lautenschlager’s troops to make a run to the bronze medal game, where they finished fourth after losing 7-1 to Sweden.

3) 2001: Switzerland 4, Finland 2

Ah, how time flies. Today, Andres Ambuhl is a Swiss national team legend who has suited up at five Olympics and 16 IIHF World Championships. But in 2001, the Davos native was just 17 and making his U18 Worlds debut in Helsinki. 

It was a true semi-finals shocker when Ambuhl and his mates ended the gold medal dreams of the two-time defending champion Finns, who had Mikko Koivu and Jussi Jokinen up front and Kari Lehtonen in net. Switzerland would take the silver medal after losing the final 6-2 to Russia.

4) 2003: Slovakia 2, Russia 1

You might remember Stefan Ruzicka as a hard-working veteran forward who played 55 career NHL games with the Philadelphia Flyers and another 300 games as a KHL journeyman. However, the biggest IIHF goal this Nitra product ever scored came at the U18 Worlds – against some future IIHF and Hockey Hall of Famers.

Heading into the semi-finals, the host Russians boasted a tournament-best 27-8 goal difference, with Alexander Ovechkin and Yevgeni Malkin ranking 1-2 in team scoring. But coach Vladimir Kryuchkov’s favoured squad came up empty in a 2-1 semi-final shootout loss in Yaroslavl, and it was Ruzicka – a future two-time World Championship participant – who got the game-winner.

5) 2007: Switzerland 5, Finland 1

In the early years of this tournament, the Swiss had a habit of messing up Finland’s home-ice dreams.

In the Finns’ second game in Tampere, they grabbed a 1-0 lead at 0:55 on Joni Liljeblad’s power play goal. But Switzerland, featuring future 2013 Worlds MVP Roman Josi on defence, stormed back with five unanswered goals, and future 2022 Olympic gold-medal goalie Harri Sateri was pulled after Gregory Sciaroni beat him twice in the second period.

The Swiss finished sixth and Finland seventh in 2007, so this wasn’t a landmark episode for either side.

6) 2010: Switzerland 3, Canada 1

Canada’s worst finish (seventh place) and lone relegation round appearance both came at the 2010 tournament in Belarus. Despite having a future Hockey Hall of Famer in coach Guy Carbonneau, this wasn’t a great Canadian roster. The best-known skaters were defencemen Ryan Murray and Erik Gudbranson. Canada paid the price with a 3-1 upset loss to Switzerland on Day One in Bobruisk.

Samuel Guerra scored the eventual winner late in the second period and goalie Lukas Meili recorded a 33-save performance to outduel future 2016 World Champion Calvin Pickard.

7) 2014: Switzerland 4, U.S. 2

Talk about getting an early wake-up call. The Americans – winners of four straight U18 Worlds from 2009 and 2012 before Canada’s 2013 triumph – were considered gold-medal favourites as they hit the ice for their opener versus Switzerland in Lappeenranta, Finland. And no wonder: coach Danton Cole’s powerhouse roster featured star forwards like Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, and Kyle Connor.

Nonetheless, the Swiss came out blazing. They outshot the U.S. 37-33. Denis Malgin led the way with two goals and an assist, while Kevin Fiala added a goal and an assist. Yet the Americans used the defeat as fuel. They wouldn’t lose another game en route to winning the gold medal.

8) 2014: Czech Republic 4, Canada 3

Capturing a surprising silver medal in 2014 remains the most hopeful moment in recent Czech international junior hockey history. It was an above-average Czech roster that year with future NHL aces like David Pastrnak, Jakub Vrana, and Pavel Zacha. Nonetheless, Canada had better odds of winning their semi-final clash, countering with Mat Barzal, Brayden Point, and Travis Konecny.

The Czechs led 3-0 past the midway point, but Canada roared back to tie it up in the third period. Pastrnak took a hooking penalty just over two minutes into overtime, but coach Jakub Petr’s boys weathered the storm. When David Kase potted the sudden-death clincher at 6:17, an ecstatic celebration ensued. The Czechs would fall 5-2 to the U.S. in the final, but still came away as heroes.

9) 2015: Slovakia 3, Sweden 1

When Slovakia upset Sweden 3-1 in its U18 Worlds opener in Lucerne, Switzerland, it wasn’t quite as big news in Bratislava as the 4-2 bronze-medal win over Sweden at the World Juniors in Toronto earlier in 2015. Nonetheless, it was still significant for coach Anton Bartanus’s underdogs.

Goalie Adam Huska starred with 36 saves and forward Marek Hecl broke the deadlock with four minutes remaining.

10) 2018: Czech Republic 2, Canada 1

Canada was undefeated heading into the quarter-finals in Magnitogorsk, Russia, while the Czechs stumbled into the playoffs with just one group-stage win (9-2 over France). Nonetheless, in front of an enthusiastic Arena Metallurg crowd of 6,530, the Czechs rose to the occasion. Petr Cajka potted the third-period winner and goalie Lukas Dostal recorded 33 saves. Ty Dellandrea cut the deficit to 2-1 with 6:41 left, but that was as close as Canada would get.

“It’s something special to beat Canada in such an important game,” said Cajka. “I think we played fantastic. All of the guys gave the maximum. We scored two goals and we won.”