In a stunning upset, France opened the 2014 Worlds with a 3-2 shootout win over Canada at Chizhovka Arena. Pierre-Édouard Bellemare got the lone shootout goal.
Bellemare beat Canadian goalie James Reimer high to the stick side, prompting a wild celebration with his teammates at centre ice.
“It’s big, of course,” said Bellemare. “I’m proud of all the guys. It’s a team effort.”
It was just the second French win ever over Canada at the World Championship, dating back to 1931.
Stéphane Da Costa notched two power-play goals for France. Brayden Schenn and Erik Gudbranson scored for Canada.
“We have a lot of hockey left to play in this tournament and we just have to get better,” said Canada’s Morgan Rielly. “We didn’t play our best.”
Few expected this game to be so close, but given that France stunned then-defending champion Russia 2-1 last year, it’s obviously not wise to underestimate coach Dave Henderson’s squad.
“Any time we beat a top-six team, it’s huge,” said Henderson. “Canada is where hockey is. If you beat Canada, it’s a huge thing for French hockey.”
“France defended very well in front of their net,” said Canadian coach Dave Tippett. “We didn’t create enough opportunities, and [French goalie Cristobal] Huet made some big saves for them. It shows how hard this tournament is. It shows how hard teams are going to play against Canada. It’s a good lesson for our young players.”
Huet was magnificent, denying Kyle Turris, Sean Monahan, and Matt Read in the shootout. Huet was the first Frenchman to win the Stanley Cup in 2010 as a Chicago Blackhawks backup. Canada outshot France 36-29.
“It’s huge for us,” said Huet. “This doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s two tournaments in a row that we have beaten a big team and that gives us confidence that we can play anyone if we play structured and play with passion and good defence first. We don’t have the talent of Canada, Sweden, Russia, but we have to play as a team and frustrate our opponents.”
Canada, the two-time defending Olympic champion, is seeking its first IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship gold medal since 2007 and first medal of any shade since 2009. But this wasn’t the way it expected to start.
France, which sits 12th in the IIHF World Ranking, is looking to improve on last year’s 13th-place finish.
There was a good, aggressive tempo, especially considering that it was the opener for both sides here in Minsk. The crowd largely supported France, with chants of “Shaibu!” supplementing cries of “Allez Les Bleus!”
“I asked the guys to play hard and they played their asses off,” said Henderson.
The Canadians didn’t record their first shot on goal for four and a half minutes. But they peppered Huet during their first power play after French captain Laurent Meunier hauled down his Canadian counterpart, Kevin Bieksa.
Stéphane Da Costa drew first blood for France on the man advantage with 2:57 left in the opening frame. He fired home a rebound from the goal line to Reimer’s right after Yohann Auvitu’s shot from the hash marks was stymied.
Canada quickly equalized on the power play before the first buzzer. At 19:46, Cody Hodgson sent a nice pass from the left-side boards to Schenn, who zinged a wrister over Huet’s glove.
Huet made a magnificent glove save on Rielly during a mid-second period French power play, diving cross-crease to foil the high attempt from the right faceoff circle.
“I was beat, but you know, inspiration,” said Huet.
Late in the second period, Canada ran into a stretch of penalty trouble, including a pair of slashing minors to Troy Brouwer. But France couldn’t capitalize even with two 5-on-3 advantages.
Gudbranson gave Canada a 2-1 lead just past the halfway mark of the third period. From the hash marks, he snapped a shot off Huet’s right post, and it bounced off the netminder and just over the line. Nathan MacKinnon, considered the NHL’s front-runner for rookie of the year with the Colorado Avalanche, earned his first World Championship point with the assist.
With 7:25 left and France on the power play, Da Costa tied it up when he was left alone in front of the net and Antoine Roussel centred the puck from behind the goal line. Da Costa deked Reimer on the backhand, deposting the puck into the gaping cage.
“I thought we made some critical errors on the kills that came back to bite us,” said Tippett.
Huet made another great stop on Hodgson just before the end of the third.
Overtime solved nothing. The best chance went to France’s Nicolas Besch on a partial break, with Reimer making a nice pad save.
It was the tenth all-time World Championship meeting between these nations. Canada won eight of those encounters, with France’s lone previous victory coming at the 1995 tournament in Sweden (4-1 on April 25).
The French wore “2017” on their helmets and shoulders, promoting their co-hosting of the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship with Germany.
Next up for Canada is Slovakia on Saturday, while France takes on Italy on Sunday.
“A big step for us would be coming out in the next game playing just as well,” said Bellemare. “We have had a tendency in the past to play a good game and follow it up with a worse one, so that’s our focus. Italy is a key game.”
IHLC: With the win, France now holds the IHLC title for the eighth time – Les Bleus last held the IHLC in 1994, and first won the title from the inaugural champions, Belgium, in 1906. This was the first meeting between Canada and France for the IHLC since France’s last reign in October 1994, where the IHLC changed hands three times on an exhibition tour of Saskatchewan, Canada. Team Canada, who entered the tournament as incumbent champs after winning the IHLC from Finland in Sochi, gets off to a disappointing start to their time in Minsk following their Olympic Gold. France begins its title defence against Italy on May 11.
01:19 – PEN – Myers, holding
04:36 – PEN – Meunier, tripping
15:52 – PEN – Burrows, tripping
17:03 – PP GOAL – S. Da Costa (Auvitu, Bellemare)
19:25 – PEN – Meunier, hooking
19:44 – PP GOAL – Schenn (Hodgson, Garrison)
26:22 – PEN – S. Da Costa, elbowing
30:00 – PEN – Guttig, inteference
38:27 – PEN – Brouwer, slashing
39:21 – PEN – Bieksa, tripping
40:39 – PEN – Brouwer, slashing
50:42 – GOAL – Gudbrandson (MacKinnon)
52:15 – PEN – Garrison, slashing
52:35 – PP GOAL – S. Da Costa (Roussel, Fleury)
S. Da Costa lost the puck
W: Huet (34-36)
L: Reimer (26-29)
SHOTS ON GOAL
10+6+10+2+1 = 29
11+13+9+3+0 = 36
Goaltenders: Florian Hardy, Cristobal Huet. Defence: Baptiste Amar (A), Yohann Auvitu, Nicolas Besch, Florian Chakiachvili, Benjamin Dieudé-Fauvel, Jonathan Janil, Antonin Manavian. Forwards: Pierre-Édouard Bellemare (A), Stéphane Da Costa, Teddy Da Costa, Julien Desrosiers, Damien Fleury, Anthony Guttig, Brian Henderson, Laurent Meunier (C), Damien Raux, Nicolas Ritz, Antoine Roussel, Luc Tardif, Yorick Treille.
Goaltenders: James Reimer, Ben Scrivens. Defence: Kevin Bieksa (C), Braydon Coburn, Ryan Ellis, Jason Garrison, Erik Gudbrandson, Tyler Myers, Morgan Rielly. Forwards: Troy Brouwer, Alex Burrows, Jason Chimera (A), Cody Hodgson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, Nathan MacKinnon, Sean Monahan, Matt Read, Mark Scheifele, Brayden Schenn, Kyle Turris (A), Joel Ward.