Thursday, 30 April 2009

Upsets Are Great

There's nothing I like more in this world than an upset at a major international hockey tournament. It really reinforces the idea that, on any given day, anyone can beat anyone else. It happened in Salt Lake City when Belarus defeated Sweden in the quarterfinals, and really turned the hockey world upside-down. Vladimir Kopat's 70-foot slapshot put the Belarussian hockey program on the map in terms of the Olympic stage, and forced major changes in the Swedish hockey program. Upsets happen, though, and that's why I love hockey - anyone can literally beat anyone else on any given day.

Looking at this year's World Hockey Championships that are taking place right now in Bern and Zurich-Kloten, Switzerland, there have been a number of scares and a few upsets that have started to change the power hierarchy in the international hockey world.

The first game that showed that the lesser-known teams came to play was the Switzerland-France game on April 24. Switzerland barely survived a 1-0 game as the French team played a superb game. A powerplay goal in the first period by Martin Pluss stood as the winner for the Swiss squad, but French goaltender Fabrice Lhenry was the story as he stopped 41 of 42 shots to give France a shot at a major upset.

The first major upset of the tournament came on April 26. Slovakia matched up against Belarus, and the Belarussians didn't back down from the Slovaks. Andrei Stas opened the scoring for Belarus in the second period. Andrei Mezin, the same goaltender who was in net in Salt Lake City, almost shutout the Slovaks, but Marcel Hossa tied the game with just under three minutes to play. Overtime solved nothing, but the shootout did. Oleg Antonenko scored both of Belarus' shootout goals, and Slovakia could only put one puck past Mezin, giving Belarus a 2-1 victory over Slovakia.

The next upset came the very next day, on April 27. Latvia and Sweden squared off, and it was expected that the Swedish team should be able to handle the Latvian squad. Linus Omark put the Tre Kronor up 1-0 in the first period while outshooting the Latvians by a 13-6 margin. Latvia, however, wasn't fazed. Krisjanis Redlihs and Lauris Darzins replied for the Latvia in the second period to give the Latvians the lead going into the third period. Magnus Johansson tied the game up, and Latvia held the fort right through overtime, leading to a shootout. In the shootout, the final Latvian shooter ended the game as Aleksandrs Nizivijs scored to give Latvia the 3-2 shootout win, and a 3-2 final score.

France's close call against Switzerland had to have built confidence in the Frenchmen. Their April 28th game against Germany was just the right time for France to post their first win if they could play as well as they did against Switzerland. Well, Anthoine Lussier got France on the board first before Jochen Hecht tied the game midway through the first period. France did strike again before the end of the first, though, as Luc Tardif put France back on top. From there on, it was all Fabrice Lhenry as he stopped 30 of 31 shots to give France the 2-1 win. Another lesser-known team knocks off a team who has some modest international success.

April 30 saw Latvia coming off their win over Sweden into a game against the host Swiss team. Could they pull off another win over a moderately-successful team? Martin Cipulis started the Latvians off on the right foot as he opened the scoring in the first period. Like Belarus against Slovakia, goaltender Edgars Masalskis almost made it through sixty minutes, but Andres Ambuhl tied the game with 1:31 remaining. Meaning we were off to overtime again. And nothing was solved there, so we're back to the shootout. Wouldn't you know it? Aleksandrs Nizivijs scored the only goal of the shootout to give Latvia a 2-1 win over Switzerland. Latvia's second shootout win in the tournament moved them to the qualifying round - a huge accomplishment for that team.

Now, you're probably thinking to yourself that both France and Latvia - juggernauts in this tournament - had to have played each other, right? No, they did not. But have no fear! They square off in the qualifying round on May 2! Belarus has a game on May 2 against Finland which will be a much tougher test, but stranger things have happened. The rest of the tournament schedule can be found here, but I'm hoping there is at least one more upset. It's why I love hockey.

Oh, and just because I'm a homer, GO CANADA GO!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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