International Ice Hockey Federation

French win, Latvia survives

Desrosiers gets shootout winner, Austria relegated

Published 12.05.2015 19:28 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
French win, Latvia survives
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 12: Latvia's Roberts Bukarts #71 and France's Kevin Hecquefeuille #84 battle for the puck during preliminary round action at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
France kept its spot at the 2016 Worlds, rallying to beat Latvia 3-2 in a shootout. Julien Desrosiers got the winner. Austria is relegated to Division I.

All three French shooters beat Latvian goalie Edgars Masalskis with high shots, Desrosiers going after Damien Fleury and before Stephane Da Costa. The French mobbed one another after Da Costa put it home.

"When we were in their zone, we were all over them," said Da Costa. "I think we deserved this win. They're a good team and clog everything. They didn't give us anything. They shouldn't go down, and we shouldn't go down. We didn't have a great tournament but I think we have a team that shouldn't go down."

Just by reaching overtime in Tuesday's second game at the O2 Arena, the Latvians already had the point they needed to survive. France, Latvia, and Austria all finish with five points, but the Austrians are last because they lost their head-to-head games with the other two nations.

The Austrians have now been relegated in each of their last six top-division appearances dating back to 2005, when they last hosted the tournament.

Latvia has been in the elite division since 1997, while France has stayed up since 2008 under head coach Dave Henderson. The French finish 12th and Latvia 13th.

In regulation time, Stephane Da Costa and Sacha Treille scored for France. Kaspars Daugavins and Guntis Galvins led the way with a goal and an assist for Latvia, and Lauris Darzins added two helpers.

France will co-host the 2017 IIHF World Championship with Germany (Paris and Cologne). Playing in Division I in 2016 is not what Les Bleus envisioned, and now they won’t have to.

Latvia is fortunate that advanced statistics didn't determine the winner, as the French fired 35 shots on Masalskis, while Latvia mustered just 13 at the other end on Cristobal Huet.

"It was frustrating but we wanted to keep controlling play and getting pucks to the net," said Huet. "Eventually we knew they'd go in."

Special teams were a saving grace for Latvia in this vital Group A game in front of 15,167 fans. The Latvians capitalized twice with the man advantage and killed off all three minor penalties they took.

It was a battle of contrasting styles, the Latvians more Soviet-influenced and freewheeling, the French more Canadian and hard-driving.

"They were flying," Daugavins said of the French. "We played five defensemen all game and we ran out of gas. Physically, I don't know how they were flying after playing yesterday, but they were desperate."

The French clearly carried the play starting in the first period. They fired the puck from every angle and outshot Latvia 12-2.

But the Latvians proved more opportunistic. At 11:25, Daugavins opened the scoring on the power play. Linemate Lauris Darzins swatted the puck across the crease past French sticks to the Latvian captain, and he beat Huet high to the glove side. It was Daugavins’ team-leading fifth goal of the tournament.

The Latvian power play clicked again at 2:48 of the second period. Darzins skimmed a nice pass to Galvins at the center point and his rising shot eluded Huet, glove side again.

France kept hammering away. Near the five-minute mark of the second,Teddy Da Costa zoomed into the right faceoff circle and unleashed a bomb that went off Masalskis’ mask, shaking up the Latvian netminder. However, he continued to play.

Masalskis made a magnificent sprawling save with just over six minutes left in the middle frame when Antoine Roussel found Charles Bertrand streaking for the net.

The action heated up late in the period. Huet kept his team within two goals, coming across to foil Roberts Bukarts on a 2-on-1 rush with Janis Sprukts.

France’s Antoine Roussel, a 2014 tournament all-star, got shaken up in a collision with Mikelis Redlihs, and his linemate Stephane Da Costa, who missed three games due to a knee injury, was penalized for elbowing Bukarts.

"It's not very good right now," said Da Costa of his knee. "It hurts really bad. I even had tears coming down in the third period, it hurt that bad. But I wasn't not going to play. We needed this one. I think we showed really big heart to come back."

In the third period, the French didn't give up. Stephane Da Costa set up team goal leader Fleury for an in-close opportunity off the rush and then banged in the rebound at 8:21 to make it 2-1.

Tricolor flags waved and the French fans chanted "Allez Les Bleus!" The comeback was on.

Sacha Treille tied it up with 4:40 remaining, stepping in from the blue line and zinging a wrister down the middle that squeezed past Masalskis.

The French had an incredible chance to win it in the dying seconds of regulation when Kristaps Sotnieks' drive from France's blue line was blocked by Julien Desrosiers, who raced off on a breakaway. However, Masalskis stoned him and held on to the puck.

"We have to thank our goalie for saving our butt with eight seconds to go," said Daugavins.

After overtime settled nothing, Darzins was the lone Latvian to beat Huet in the shootout.

The end result is a huge relief for Latvia. The tiny, hockey-mad Baltic state is renowned for having arguably the world’s loudest fans per capita.

"We played well the first two periods and then sat back too much on defence," said Daugavins. "We wanted to get a win in regulation this tournament, but it's a good thing we stayed up."

Prior to this game, Latvia had won all four of its World Championship games with France dating back to 1997. Latvia lost 3-2 to France in overtime in 2013 during qualification play for the 2014 Olympics, but the single point was enough to send the Latvians to Sochi, while France missed out.

"We have a young team, so this is a good experience for everyone," Daugavins said. "We've learned that when the games are tough, we can play well. That's the key. Next year, we'll have more belief in ourselves."