International Ice Hockey Federation

Asterix: The Hockey Way

Asterix: The Hockey Way

When Belarus swiped Sweden’s laurel wreath

Published 29.04.2017 23:05 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Asterix: The Hockey Way
Just as Asterix and Obelix steal Julius Caesar’s laurel wreath, Belarus stole victory from Sweden at the 2002 Olympics! Photos: Editions Albert René, Dave Sandford
Stealing Julius Caesar’s laurel wreath from his well-guarded palace is a long shot. So was the way Belarus beat Sweden in the Olympic quarter-final!

Leading up to the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, we’re dedicating one article to each day of the tournament, making a tongue-in-cheek comparison between an Asterix comic book and famous aspects of international hockey history.

Soon Belarus will start its World Championship journey in Paris. It’s time for us to honour the greatest moment in Belarusian hockey history!

When the former Soviet republic confronted Sweden in Salt Lake City in 2002, it was rightly perceived as a total mismatch. Belarus had finished seventh in its 1998 Olympic debut and had peaked with an eighth-place finish at the 1998 Worlds. Here in the Utah capital, it had lost 6-4 to Russia, 8-1 to Finland, and 8-1 to the United States.

Meanwhile, Sweden looked like the cream of the Winter Games. Led by Mats Sundin, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Daniel Alfredsson, Tre Kronor had a perfect round-robin record, defeating Canada 5-2, the Czech Republic 2-1, and Germany 7-1!

So when village chief Vitalstatistix bets his snooty brother-in-law that Asterix and Obelix can get Caesar’s laurel wreath and use it for a stew they’ll all feast on, it seems about as far-fetched as the notion that Belarus could beat Sweden!

But similar to our two mascots selling themselves into slavery to infiltrate Caesar’s palace, Belarus coach Vladimir Krikunov deliberately kept things low-key heading into the 20 February, 2002 showdown. He even lost a bottle of cognac in a bet because he predicted his own team would lose!

Sweden outshot Belarus 47-19 at the E Center, getting goals from Lidstrom, Sundin, and Michael Nylander. But goalie Andrei Mezin played the game of his life, and goals by Oleg Romanov, Dmitri Dudik, and Andrei Kovalev left the teams deadlocked at 3-3.

The IIHF web site reported the shocking turning point: “Vladimir Kopat scored the winner on a freaky shot with 2:24 remaining in the third period. Coming down the right wing, the Belarus defenceman slapped a high shot from between the red line and blue line toward Swedish goalie Tommy Salo, who didn’t know how to handle it. The puck hit Salo in the mask area, bounced over his head and trickled over the goal line.”

By Toutatis! It was the second-biggest upset in IIHF history after the 4-3 American “Miracle on Ice” win over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics!

“Sometimes even a gun without a bullet shoots, and that was us today,” Mezin said. “They weren’t hungry for the goals. I think we beat them mentally.”

And just like Kopat delivered the knockout punch, Vitalstatistix knocks his condescending brother out after he complains that the laurel wreath stew is overcooked! (Caesar has to wear a parsley wreath at his next triumph, which is obviously still nicer than the Swedish newspaper that called the Tre Kronor stars “traitors” with pictures of their faces and NHL salaries.)

In recent years, Belarusian hockey has progressed and achieved more highlights. The red-and-green squad made the quarter-finals on home ice in Minsk 2014 and repeated the feat in 2015! But it’ll be tough to top Salt Lake City.

This is a 17-part series prior to the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, of which Asterix and Obelix are the official mascots. Click on News to find the stories.


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