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Something's rotten!

Denmark beats U.S. in hockey World C'ships stunner

Posted: Saturday April 26, 2003 11:19 AM
Updated: Saturday April 26, 2003 4:14 PM
  Mike Grey Denmark's Mike Grey follows the puck into the net. AP

TAMPERE, Finland (AP) -- Denmark pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the World Hockey Championships on Saturday, stunning the United States 5-2 in the opening game.

Denmark, a small Scandinavian country with only about 4,000 hockey players, is making its return to hockey's elite after a 54-year absence. In the 1949 tournament in Stockholm, Sweden, Denmark lost one game to Canada 47-0, still a record in championship history.

"But you don't need 50,000 players to get a good national team," U.S. head coach Lou Vairo said. "Look at Latvia, they don't have a national league and still play good hockey.

"They [Denmark] played great and deserved to win. We're disappointed but not discouraged. We can still win two games and finish first in our group. It's possible."

The United States plays Switzerland on Sunday and concludes the prelims Tuesday against Russia.

The top three teams in each of the four single round-robin preliminary-round groups advance to a qualification round with two groups. The top four teams in each qualification group move to the quarterfinals May 7.

In other games, Canada blanked Belarus 3-0; the Czech Republic beat Slovenia 5-2; host Finland trounced Austria 5-1; Russia defeated Switzerland 5-2 and Sweden beat Latvia 3-1 without NHL scoring champion Peter Forsberg, who'll join the team for the next game.

For Denmark, it was easily the biggest hockey triumph ever.

"We didn't feel the pressure," said Mikael Lundstrom, a Swede who started his international coaching career in Kuwait. "We're not here on vacation, we're not here just to learn but to play some good games.

"We know that we have some forwards who can score goals, Kim Staal for instance. We didn't say that we should go out and win, but we said we would do our best and try to play a good game."

Staal, one of the Danish team's six players based in Sweden and a star on Forsberg's old Swedish club MoDo this season, led Denmark with two goals and two assists.

The United States, which has 12 National Hockey League players but no big names on its roster, outshot Denmark 55-22 but goalie Peter Hirsch made several sparkling saves throughout the game.

Three of the Danish goals came after breakaways, including the first two in the opening period.

Jim Fahey, a defenseman from the San Jose Sharks, and Kelly Fairchild, who forward plays in Germany for the Berlin Ice Bears, scored for the Americans.

Bo Nordby-Andersen and Staal stuffed backhanders past goalie Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres within a span of 3:42 to give Denmark a 2-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game.

Miller, the top goalie in last year's championships in Sweden when the United States finished seventh, gave up another goal when defenseman Jesper Damgaard one-timed a slap shot from the point at 12:21.

Fahey scored a power-play goal at 16:06 to pull one back for the United States.

Chris Rogles, who plays in Germany for the Cologne Sharks, replaced Miller at the start of the second period. But it didn't help much.

Ronny Larsen scored with a wrister high to the glove side at 3:09 in the second after yet another breakaway.

Fairchild gave the Americans hope when he cut the score to 4-2 with only 2:24 gone in the last period.

Hirsch made some clutch saves as the Americans put the pressure on halfway through the last period when the Danes played shorthanded for nearly four minutes through penalties.

After the final buzzer, hundreds of boisterous, flag-waving Danish fans celebrated the triumph in the stands at the Tampere Ice Hall, the oldest hockey facility in Finland. Some of them cried.

In the coastal city of Turku, Edmonton Oilers forward Mike Comrie had a goal and an assist to lead Canada over Belarus. A little-solicited Sean Burke stopped a meager 13 shots to record the first shutout of the tournament.

Letting the game come to them, the Canadians scored twice in the opening period, with team captain Ryan Smyth, making his fifth appearance at the worlds, drawing first blood at 12:13.

Ryan, a member of Canada's Olympic gold medal winning team in Salt Lake City, sneaked in a rebound from Comrie's slap shot at the left point.

Atlanta Thrashers right wing Dany Heatley, last year's NHL rookie of the year, made it 2-0 just over five minutes later, jamming in the puck during a goal-mouth scramble after a powerful slap shot from the blueline by Oilers Steve Staios.

Comrie then scored one of his own in the final session, coming in from the right sideboards, executing a nifty backhand-forehand maneuver before flipping the puck upstairs under the crossbar past Sergei Shabanov.

Though tight defensively, Belarus found it difficult to penetrate the Canadian end and generate scoring chances.

"A bad goal could have changed the momentum of the game and that could be dangerous," Burke said. "It's nights like these against teams like that, that you can't afford to give up a goal.

"Some of the teams here consider this worlds like their Stanley Cup and they really come out for it. So we weren't expecting a cakewalk."

The last time the two nations faced each other in international competition was in the Olympics last year, after Belarus stunned Sweden 4-3 in the round of eight. Canada easily won the match 7-1.

The two countries have met eight times since Belarus achieved independence in 1992 and the only point Belarus has earned was in a 2-2 tie their first meeting in 1993.

Since then, Canada has won all seven games and outscored Belarus 56-14.

After being relegated at the 2001 worlds, Belarus worked hard to re-enter the world's elite.

But the tiny nation came back to stun the NHL-studded Swedish team at last year's Olympics, then, boosted by its success, took its group in the Division 1 world championships in the Netherlands to regain its spot for the worlds in Finland.

Belarus will next play Sweden, in their first rematch since the Tre Kronors' (Three Crowns') humiliating Olympic loss. Tommy Salo, who gave up a bizarre goal that gave Belarus the win in one of the biggest upsets in Olympic hockey history, will sit out the rematch, claiming fatigue.

In Helsinki, Radim Vrbata, Michal Sup, David Vyborny, Jiri Hudler and Jaroslav Balastik scored for the Czechs. Marcel Rodman and Gregor Por scored for Slovenia.

In Turku, Latvia stunned Sweden by lighting up the scoreboard first, with Vadims Romanovskis scoring at 12:58 into the match. But the goal spurred the Swedes out of their passivity, with L.A. Kings defenseman Mattias Norstrom evening the score less than a minute later.

Peter Nordstrom then made it 2-1 for the Swedes at 16:28.

Sweden, which had nine 2002 Olympians on its squad, continued to control the game in the second period, with Rhodin scoring just 2:46 into the session. But the Latvians were not about to give in.

The Baltic nation kept the Swedes from further increasing the gap despite the loss of Nashville Predators defenseman Karlis Skrastins, who was ejected from the game after hitting Florida Panthers Marcus Nilson heavily into the boards during a scuffle. Nilson, who suffered a concussion, was stretchered off the ice but reassured his teammates and coach, clearly moving his hands and feet as he was wheeled off the ice.

"I watched one of my most valuable players ejected from the game but it was an accident," Latvia head coach Curt Lindstrom said. "The Swedish player was off balance. I didn't see anything dirty."

Nilsson agreed.

"It was a fair hit," the Swedish coach said. "He hit his head in the plexiglass. It happens."

 
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