With a wild bounce that almost looked to be something out of a cartoon, flying off Tommy Salo’s helmet and trickling into the net, Sweden’s dream of a dominating Gold Medal at the 2002 Olympics quickly was vanquished by an unlikely foe in Belarus, from the stick of an unlikely shooter in Vladimir Kopat, resulting in an unlikely Olympic Semifinalist, and new (and of course, unlikely) International Hockey Lineal Champion.
Perhaps more shocking than the winning goal was the fact that Belarus even remained competitive throughout the game against a Sweden squad many expected to capture Gold in Salt Lake – even after Nicklas Lidström struck early with a power play blast only 3:10 in to take the lead, Belarus answered back just over three minutes later, short handed no less, on an Oleg Romanov equalizer. And despite being outshot 22-10 in the first period, Belarus would lead 2-1 after twenty on a 5-on-3 powerplay goal from Dmitri Dudik, with Swedish stars Mats Sundin and Kenny Jönsson stuck in the box. And despite being outshot 12-5 in the second frame, Belarusian goalie Andrei Mezin only conceded one goal, a power play marker from Michael Nylander.
It was the third period where the real magic emerged – the Bisons struck early, with Andrei Kovalyov putting Belarus ahead for a stunning second time on a solo effort from just 2:47 into the third. Tre Kronor would respond within five minutes, with captain Sundin trying the game at 3-3 on an unassisted effort. With neither side giving up any further ground, especially impressive as Sweden outshot Belarus 13-4 in the third, a seemingly inoccuous clearing attempt from Kopat, slapping the puck towards the Swedish net from just past centre ice, struck a jumping Salo’s helmet, bounced behind him as he was landing, and slid past the goal line before Salo or Swedish defenceman Kenny Jonsson could stop the puck from crossing.
Kopat’s goal, scored with only 2:24 to go in the third period, brought the previously sombre E Center to life, with a crowd expecting a Swedish blowout suddenly witnessing an emerging hockey miracle on their hands. Sweden, with Salo pulled and six attackers on, peppered a flurry of shots at Mezin, but the Bisons kept managing to clear their zone, holding on for dear life for the horn to sound, and the win to be sealed. And with a distraught Salo and stunned Sundin looking on, the Belarusians celebrated certainly their country’s biggest win ever, and one of the most wildest upsets in international hockey history.
With the unlikely victory, Belarus captured only its second ever International Hockey Lineal Championship, just four years after their first IHLC game against Russia at the Nagano Olympics. These two had met once before with the IHLC on the line, with Sweden retaining in a 2-1 win at the 1998 World Championships in Zürich. The Czechs entered the Salt Lake Games as IHLC champions, winning their opener against Germany before losing to Sweden, who then also defeated Germany in the Group stages, before losing to Belarus in the Quarterfinals. Belarus would lose the IHLC in their next game, a 7-1 Semifinal loss to Canada, but the momentous occasion is still to this day known as the greatest victory in Belarusian hockey history.
01:47 – PEN – Romanov, holding
03:10 – PP GOAL – Lidström (Johnsson, Nylander)
06:43 – PEN – Pankov, cross checking
07:15 – PEN – Salei, tripping
07:43 – PEN – Sundin, roughing
07:47 – SH GOAL – Romanov (Matushkin, Kalyuzhny)
09:16 – PEN – K. Jönsson, hooking
09:33 – PP2 GOAL – Dudik (Kovalyov, Rasolko)
28:43 – PEN – Stas, holding
30:14 – PP GOAL – Nylander (Sundin, Lidström)
33:34 – PEN – Bekbulatov, holding
37:06 – PEN – Öhlund, high sticking
42:47 – GOAL – Kovalyov
44:39 – PEN – Stas, holding
47:54 – GOAL – Sundin
50:16 – PEN – Stas, holding
54:46 – PEN – Renberg, high sticking
57:36 – GOAL – Kopat (Antonenko, Bekbulatov)
W: Mezin (44-47)
L: Salo (15-19)
SHOTS ON GOAL
10+5+4 = 19
22+12+13 = 47
Goaltenders: Andrei Mezin, Sergei Shabanov. Defence: Oleg Khmyl (A), Vladimir Kopat, Alexander Makritski, Igor Matushkin, Oleg Mikulchik, Oleg Romanov, Ruslan Salei, Sergei Stas, Alexander Zhurik. Forwards: Alexander Andrievski (C), Oleg Antonenko, Vadim Bekbulatov, Dmitri Dudik, Alexei Kalyuzhny, Andrei Kovalyov, Dmitri Pankov, Vasili Pankov, Andrei Rasolko, Vladimir Tsyplakov (A), Eduard Zankovets.
Goaltenders: Johan Hedberg, Tommy Salo. Defence: Kim Johnsson, Kenny Jönsson, Nicklas Lidström (A), Mattias Norström, Fredrik Olausson, Marcus Ragnarsson, Mattias Öhlund. Forwards: Daniel Alfredsson, Magnus Arvedson, Per-Johan Axelsson, Ulf Dahlén, Tomas Holmström, Mathias Johansson, Jörgen Jönsson (A), Markus Näslund, Michael Nylander, Mikael Renberg, Mats Sundin (C), Niklas Sundström, Henrik Zetterberg.