Canada Advances To
Probably the last team Canada expected to face en route to the gold medal final was the former Soviet satellite state Belarus. But the team of mostly no-names were the surprise of the tournament, knocking off powerful Sweden with an unforgettable goal.
Belarus, backed by an incredible performance from goalie Andrei Mezin and lone-NHL representative Ruslan Salei, pulled off one of the greatest international hockey upsets by defeating Sweden 4-3. Sweden couldn't solve Mezin, and then with just 2:24 left in the game Vladimir Kopat fired a long and high shot that Swedish goalkeeper Tommy Salo momentarily lost sight of. The puck ended up hitting a stunned Salo in the head before bouncing into the net.
The victory ranks with Team USA's "Miracle on Ice" in 1980 against the powerful Soviets and Great Britain's 1936 defeat of Canada as the greatest Olympic upsets ever.
It also proved to be a great break for Canada. Instead of playing the powerful Swedes, who had already handily defeated Canada 5-2 in the tournament, Canada now faced a much lesser opponent. Although Canada would not take the surprising Belorussians lightly like the Swedes did.
Steve Yzerman led the way with a goal and two assists in a convincing 7-1 romp of the unheralded Baltic nation. Yzerman played on the top line with Mario Lemieux and Paul Kariya, who also scored a goal. Lemieux had two assists.
Defensemen Scott Niedermayer and Eric Brewer and forwards Simon Gagne, Eric Lindros and Jarome Iginla added goals in what had to be a confidence-building offensive eruption for many of Canada's snake-bitten scoring stars.
"I think it's good for a lot of
guys to get on the board," Yzerman said. "We certainly had a lot
of chances (in earlier games) and they weren't going in. You can just
relax and get playing."
The victory advanced Canada to the gold medal final for the first time since 1994. They awaited the winner of the USA-Russia match to see who their opponent would be. Either opponent would have rekindled a classic rivalry.