Say what you will about the World Championship, but the tournament has a habit of producing some upset specials.
Who would have pegged Switzerland getting just a goal away from the team’s first major gold medal last year? Or even Belarus getting relegated for the first time since 2004? Did you bet on Germany beating the United States to kick off the 2017 event? If you did, send us your lottery picks, please.
It’s one of the special aspects of the World Championship tournament. With teams such as Canada and the United States playing without many of their top stars, the playing field is somewhat levelled and teams such as Latvia and France often have their best chance at downing top nations. You don’t need to have best-on-best to create incredible action, and that’s what makes the tournament so unpredictable and fun.
The tournament has produced some of the craziest upsets in hockey, and here are five of the most notable:
Poland defeats USSR – 1976
This game is rarely talked about. The Soviet Union entered the 1976 World Championship with gold in 12 of the past 13 events, while Poland had been a tournament bottom feeder for years. A few months earlier in the Olympics, the Soviets smacked Poland 16-1 before going on to win the gold. So, it’s understandable why Poland wasn’t pegged to pull off the “Miracle of Katowice.” They did, though. Led by three goals from Wieslaw Jobczyk, Poland pulled off a 6-4 victory, beating a full-power Soviet team that was otherwise unstoppable. Of course, Poland went on to lose 12-0 to the eventual champions Czechoslovakia the very next day and were later relegated. The Soviets, meanwhile, finished second and won their 18th consecutive medal at the tournament.
Romania defeats USA – 1977
Three years prior to the “Miracle on Ice,” the United States suffered one of their most embarrassing losses. Icing a team with more than 3,000 NHL games played, the Americans dropped a 5-4 overtime decision to Romania, a team that had and has never produced an NHLer. (They were close, however, with Doru Tureanu often being considered one of the best Europeans to never make it.) Lou Nanne had nine penalty minutes in the second period, and Romania’s three power-play goals made the United States pay. American coach John Mariucci was so upset with Nanne that the pair traded blows on the bench. It was Romania’s lone victory in 10 contests, and they ended up relegated from the tournament. Romania did just win promotion to Division IA for next season, so they have that going for them.
Norway defeats Canada – 2000
Norway has been a mainstay at the World Championship since 2006, but they bounced between the top tournament and Division I for many years before that. One of Norway’s best results at the time came in 2000, which was topped by a shocking 4-3 victory over Canada. The Canadian roster may not have Olympic-caliber, but the roster combined for nearly 20,300 games in the NHL, while no player on Norway’s roster ever played in North America. The two teams traded goals before Canada took the lead with a couple of minutes remaining in the second period. Norway scored twice more to take the victory, however. In the end, Canada lost to Finland in the bronze medal game, while Norway finished 10th. Norway hasn’t beaten Canada since, but the two sides have had a pair of one-goal games in the 13 meetings since.
Denmark defeats USA – 2003
Years before Denmark began churning out NHL talent, the Danes were one of the international pool’s weaker teams. After getting relegated following the 1949 tournament – which featured a 47-0 loss to Canada, the biggest win and loss for each country, respectively — Denmark finally made it back to the top event 54 years later. And talk about a comeback: the Danes pulled off a 5-2 victory to send the United States down to the relegation round for the second time in six years, giving Denmark their first win ever in the top event. The Americans brought a fairly weak roster, but the majority of the players were active NHLers. Denmark? They had a young Frans Nielsen, but that’s it. Denmark went on to tie the Canadians in the qualification round (the only game the eventual gold medal-winning Canadians didn’t win) and the Danes have remained in the top tournament ever since.
France defeats Russia – 2013
France was an upset machine for a couple of seasons, but no win was bigger than their 2013 victory over Russian. France didn’t have any of their NHLers available to them and ultimately missed the quarterfinals, while the Russians had Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov tearing up the tournament. France held a 2-1 lead heading into the third period, and despite Russia’s attempt to claw their way back, France’s third-string goaltender, Florian Hardy, held the fort for one of the biggest victories in French hockey history. France had never beaten Russia in six previous games and haven’t defeated the Russians – or even scored a goal against Russia – in the two meetings since. In 2014, a heroic effort by Cristobal Huet helped France beat Canada 3-2 in the shootout, marking just the second time France had ever taken down the Canadians at the World Championship.
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