(Reuters) - France produced a stunning 3-2 shootout victory over Olympic champions Canada thanks to a goal from Pierre-Edouard Bellemare as the ice hockey world championship began in Belarus on Friday.
Bellemare was the only scorer in the shootout after the preliminary round Group A game was tied at 2-2 following overtime at the Chizhovka Arenawere in Minsk.
It was only the second time France had beaten Canada at the worlds since the event began in 1931 after their first victory over the Canadians at the 1995 tournament.
Stephane da Costa struck two powerplay goals for France while Brayden Schenn and Erik Gudbranson scored for Canada.
The jubilant France team were also indebted to former Montreal Canadiens goaltender Cristobal Huet who stopped 34 of 36 shots and all three shootout attempts by Canada.
“It’s big, of course,” Bellemare was quoted as saying on the official tournament website (www.iihfworlds2014.com) “I’m proud of all the guys. It’s a team effort.”
France coach Dave Henderson added: “Any time we beat a top-six team, it’s huge. Canada is where hockey is. If you beat Canada, it’s a huge thing for French hockey.”
Canada coach Dave Tippett said: “We didn’t create enough opportunities, and Huet made some big saves for them. It shows how hard this tournament is... how hard teams are going to play against Canada. It’s a good lesson for our young players.”
France, who upset Russia at last year’s worlds, went ahead with Da Costa’s late powerplay goal in the first period.
But Canada, seeking a first world title since 2007, moved 2-1 in front through Schenn on the powerplay before the first buzzer and Gudbranson just past halfway in the third period.
However, with seven minutes left Da Costa netted on the powerplay once more to send the game into overtime but neither side could break the deadlock.
Huet was again the hero in the shootout, stopping shots from Kyle Turris, Sean Monahan and Matt Read.
Bellemare then sealed an unlikely win as he went high to the stick side of netminder James Reimer to spark wild celebrations.
In Group B the United States coasted to a 6-1 win over hosts Belarus while Russia beat Switzerland 5-0. The Czech Republic defeated Slovakia 3-2 in Friday’s other Group A game.
The top four teams in each group of eight will progress to the quarter-finals.
Reporting by Dimitriy Rogovitskiy; editing by Ken Ferris