Friday, January 02, 2009

Top 5: Other Miracles on Ice

The Slovak junior hockey team had its "Lake Placid moment," quoth TSN's Pierre McGuire, whose take on hockey must always be taken as ex cathedra, upsetting Team USA in the quarter-finals of the World Junior Hockey Championship. The Slovaks were lucky and good, although this was just as much about Team USA living up to its rep as the leading linen-soilers at the tournament — complete with some appallingly poor sportsmanship by Team USA defenceman James Shattenkirk, who reached out from the bench to hit a Slovak player with his stick. In Slovakia's honour, here is a Top 5 of international hockey upsets — and as penance for Team USA, whose get-up-and-go got up and went after their loss to Canada, it will be Miracle on Ice-free.

A key condition for this list is that it has to have the quality of being out of nowhere, where years later, you could look back and say, "Kazakhstan actually beat Canada in hockey?" or "Canada once beat the U.S. in basketball?" (They did, way back when.) Even Switzerland beating Canada at the 2006 Olympics can be ruled out. The Swiss had a handful of pros and Martin Gerber as its goaltender, before he became Public Enemy No. 29 in Ottawa.

Belarus' quarter-final upset of Sweden at the 2002 Olympic semi-final should not even count. Belarus had beaten Russia at the world two years earlier.

Here's a list, by no means definitive.

1995 World Juniors: Ukraine 3, USA 2
1996 World Juniors: Ukraine 4, USA 3

Don't call today a miracle — the U.S. has been doing this for years. Ukraine played in the main world juniors only twice and hasn't been heard from again, but it beat the United States in back-to-back years. The second time, it was even in America at the 1996 tournament in Boston, which remain infamous for sparse attendance.

The win in '95 ranks first. It should have been a 2-2 tie, but Oleksa Lazarenko stole the puck inside his own blueline in the final seconds and went in to beat U.S. goalie John Grahame on a breakaway. Losses like that were probably what caused USA Hockey to take the event a little more seriously.

2006 Olympic women's semi-final: Sweden 3, USA 2

All the chattering class talk during the Turin Olympics was about how women's hockey didn't belong in the Olympics (and one game might not have changed too many minds). The Americans were 102-0-2 against countries other than its northern neighbour, but the Swedes turned to a time-honoured upset formula — ride a hot goalie (Kim Martin, whom called "the Miracle Worker") bury the chances you go get, and get into a shootout. It worked and 16-year-old Pernilla Winberg got the winner in the shootout.

1998 World Juniors: Kazakhstan 6, Canada 3

As Greatest Hockey Legends related, the Kazakhstani team was rag-tag as all get out — outdated equipment, only seven spare sticks, and their best player on their maiden voyage into the World Juniors was Nik Antropov.

It was the seventh-place game and Canada was disillusioned and disspirited after being bounced from contention for a sixth straight gold medal. It still happened. Kazakhstan ruled throughout, and it was actually a 6-2 game since Canada scored a window-dressing goal with two seconds left.

1947 Worlds: Austria 2, Sweden 1

For decades, the world championship was a true round-robin. There were no playoffs, no single-elimination games. Whoever finished first got the gold. The Swedes appeared to have it locked up — they only had to beat Austria in their final game. King Gustav had already sent a telegram of congratulations. Somehow, Austria rose up and knocked off the Swedes, and the Czechs fell heir to the gold medal as Sweden slipped to the silver.

1976 Worlds: Poland 6, USSR 4

Since whoever has the TV footage writes the history, this one will never get mentioned. The Big Red Machine was at the peak of its powers. Poland — which these days is nowhere near a playing in a top-shelf hockey tournament — was living under the Soviet boot, but they had home ice for an opening game against the best team outside North America, which had beat it 20-0, 13-2, 15-2 and, at the Olympics where the Russians won won their fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal, 16-1. Already in 1975-76, the nucleus of the Soviet Big Red Machine had tied the MontrĂ©al Canadiens on New Year's Eve before going on to Olympic gold. However, the Poles had a hometown crowd in Katowice behind them, and the Russians took them lightly.

Vladislav Tretiak, in his memoir, figured that the puck was in the Soviets' zone for no more than eight minutes that night. Somehow, Poland cashed in whenever it got the chance, and considering the political history between the countries, it deserves to be No. 1.


Anonymous said...

I think the Winnipeg Jets beating the USSR at the Winnipeg Arena in 1978 deserves a mention. I'm fairly certain they are the only club team to ever beat the mighty Soviets. I know Tretiak wasn't in nets and Winnipeg had star goalie Joe Daley playing, but it was an incredible event that goes overlooked with the great Winnipeg teams of the 1970s.

sager said...

Well, that's why I'm glad you mentioned it ... to be honest, when I started putting this together -- which was right after Slovakia went up 3-1 -- I was thinking strictly of country vs. country.

The Jets over the Soviets would have been a good one. Bobby Hull's line scored all five goals and each of Winnipeg's other three lines took care of holding the Soviets to three.

Anonymous said...

With regards to Shattenirk, I think you are referring to the incident where the Slovaks were celebrating a front of the American's bench.
A Slovak player's stick inadvertently clipped an American player in the face.
That American player angrily shoved back at that player.
Really, that incident and the one in the Canada-US game points out what has become a serious breach of hockey etiquette...celebrating goals by gathering en masse at the opponent's bench.
Little wonder incidents are occuring.
There should be a rule, if there isn't one existing already, that no player or players celebrate a goal by skating by, looking at, or taunting the opposition bench.

Dennis Prouse said...

Rolston certainly did his coaching career no favours through his performance here. He basically came unglued during and after the Canada game. When you do that as the coach of a young team, you are sending a subliminal message to your players that it is OK not to strive for your best. After all, the coach himself just gave you a custom built excuse for failure, a get out of jail free card just waiting to be used. I wondered why I had never heard of the American coach -- now I know why.

Anonymous said...

In 1969, the Montreal JUNIOR Canadiens...that's right, the junior team, beat the Soviet nationals at the Forum.
The Juniors, though, had a ringer...Jacques Plante tended goal for them while a 17 year old Vlad Tretiak was in the Soviet net.
Although heavily outshot, Plante said in an interview that the Soviets were easy to play against because they were so predictable.
Also...did you know that at the 1976 World championships held in Katowice, Poland, the Poles toppled the mighty Soviets 6-4?
Poland had lost 27 straight games to the USSR prior to that, including a 20-0 loss in 1973.
Surely, that has to top the Miracle On Ice...Lake Placid or Squaw Valley...and the infamous Sweden-Belarus game.

Anonymous said...

I think Neate might be aware of the Poles beating the Soviets in '76 ... he had on the list.

Sager is not as stupid as he looks.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, my bad.
I neglected to click on the "read more" link, and yes, of course, Neate had thae Poland-USSR game at the top of the list.
Guess I should read neate's articles a bit more carefully from now on.