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Welcome to Upset City

Most Day One shockers in Olympic history

Published 15.08.2018 16:15 GMT+11 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Welcome to Upset City
GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 14: Slovakia's Matej Paulovic #67 and Michal Kristof #13 celebrate after a first period goal against Vasili Koshechkin #83 of the Olympic Athletes of Russia during preliminary round action at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Slovakia’s 3-2 win over the OAR team and Slovenia’s 3-2 overtime victory over the U.S. made this tournament's Day One the most upset-heavy in Olympic history.

Is that hyperbole? A touch of recency bias? Far from it. You almost never see such opening-day upsets because the sharks devour the minnows.

The OAR team entered these Games as the consensus favorite with legitimate former NHL superstars like Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk – not to mention rising young KHL guns like Nikita Gusev and Kirill Kaprizov. Granted, no Russian team has won the Olympics since 1992, but this group boasts plenty of IIHF World Championship gold medalists from 2012 and 2014.

And they blew a 2-0 lead against Slovakia, which has not placed better than eighth since the 2013 Worlds and came 14th last year. That wasn't supposed to happen.

Meanwhile, the Americans also squandered a two-goal lead against Slovenia, which has 136 registered male players. So if you play hockey in the former Yugoslavian nation, you have approximately a one-in-seven chance of making the Olympic team.

The U.S. might not have Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel, but they boast five KHLers, not to mention their Switzerland- and Sweden-based talent, and captain Brian Gionta, a 1,006-game NHLer. With a 36-25 edge in shots, the Americans should have found a way to win this game. But they handed it away in the late stages.

So these are two stunning upsets. What compares from previous opening days?

There was one shocker on Day One in 1948 when the host Swiss beat the Americans 5-4 in St. Moritz. That put captain Bibi Torriani’s team on track for just Switzerland’s second bronze medal ever after 1928. The Americans would fail to medal for the first time in their Olympic history after earning three silvers (1920, 1924, 1932) and one bronze (1936).

Fast forward to 1980. Poland opened with a 5-4 win over Finland in Lake Placid. It did the Poles little long-term good, as they finished seventh, but the Finns made it to the medal round, where the “Miracle on Ice” U.S. team had to beat them 4-2 to clinch gold. Poland should never have been able to touch a Finnish squad with captain Jukka Porvari, Kari Eloranta, and a 19-year-old Jari Kurri, among others.

Romania beat West Germany 6-4 on Day One in Lake Placid too, and while the West Germans were no powerhouse, they did capture a surprising bronze in Innsbruck in 1976. The little-known Romanians, meanwhile, finished eighth in 1980 and have never played in another top-level IIHF tournament again.

In 1988, West Germany edged Czechoslovakia 2-1 on opening day in Calgary. Even if Jaromir Sindel played in net instead of Dominik Hasek, the Germans still had to overcome a team loaded with stars like Vladimir Ruzicka, Igor Liba, Dusan Pasek, and Jiri Hrdina, who scored the lone Czechoslovakian goal. Still, as in 1948, this is just one Day One upset – not two.

Finally, in 2006, the Russians were considered gold-medal contenders, so losing 5-3 to Slovakia to start off was something of an upset. However, the Slovaks were also barely removed from their World Championship medal-winning prime (2000 silver, 2002 gold, 2003 bronze), and featured prime-time NHL talent like Miroslav Satan, Zdeno Chara, and Marian Gaborik, who led the way with two dazzling goals. As surprises go, this doesn’t remotely compare to what happened on Wednesday.

While the 3-3 opening-day tie between the U.S. and Latvia at those same Turin Olympics was a little surprising, these things sometimes happen when goalie Arturs Irbe makes 39 saves and Sandis Ozolinsh chips in two assists. Even when none other than Brian Gionta opens the scoring halfway through the first period for a stacked all-NHL U.S. team. Considering the Americans got a tie rather than losing, this can only be dubbed an "upset."

So the verdict is in. With the combined magnitude of the two upsets on Day One of the 2018 Olympics, the discrepancy between the strength of the opponents, and the fact that both involved underdogs rallying from two-goal deficits, this is as wild as it’s ever gotten. And we’re only getting started here in Korea.


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