International Ice Hockey Federation

Big breakthrough for Latvia

Big breakthrough for Latvia

Masalskis marvelous as Latvians grab first win

Published 06.05.2015 19:07 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Big breakthrough for Latvia
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 6: Latvia's Andris Dzerins #25 celebrates with teammates after scoring a second period goal against Switzerland during preliminary round action at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Kaspars Daugavins's overtime goal gave Latvia a 2-1 win over Switzerland on Wednesday. The Latvians celebrated their first two points of the tournament.

The Latvian captain executed a beautiful give-and-go with linemate Lauris Darzins on the winner at 2:19. Daugavins crossed the blue line, dropped it to Darzins and then went to the net to convert the return pass into the open side.

"It was a turnover on their part," said Daugavins. "I wanted to cut into the middle and shoot but I saw Darzins behind me. Both defensemen kind of went to me at first and then he made an unbelievable pass back to me. I had an empty net."

The victory was sparked by a 35-save performance from goalie Edgars Masalskis. He is competing in his 11th IIHF World Championship, which ties France's Cristobal Huet for the second-highest total among netminders.

The 35-year-old Riga native, who played this season for Dynamo Riga and Ambri-Piotta in Switzerland, showed no signs of wear and tear here.

"What a game," said Masalskis. "Hard. Hot. A lot of action."

Anders Dzerins got the other goal for Latvia, which, despite the win, is still struggling to score. It's potted just six goals in four games.

Matthias Bieber scored for Switzerland to tie it up with under two minutes left in regulation.

The good news for the Latvians is that their road gets easier from here on – although of course they can’t afford to look at it that way. Their last three round-robin games are against Germany, Austria, and France, all unlikely candidates to make the medal round.

"Every game we've tried, and I think every game until the middle of the second period we were still in the game, except against Canada," said Masalskis. "We've tried our best every time."

Switzerland took a step backwards after consecutive wins over neighbouring rivals France (3-1) and Germany (1-0).

"We have to get more shots to the net," said Swiss defenceman Roman Josi. "We score goals from the front of the net. We have to get those dirty goals, and we're not doing that. We have to get traffic in front of the goalie and throw the puck on the net. Get a rebound, get a good bounce. That's how we scored at the end, and that's what we have to do more."

There were good chances from the outset, even though goals seem harder to come by than diamonds at the O2 Arena these days.

Nearing the two-minute mark, Damien Brunner knifed through the Latvian defence on a breakaway, but Masalskis denied him with a poke check worthy of Toronto Maple Leafs legend Johnny Bower.

Masalskis was superb during Switzerland’s opening power play, denying a flurry of chances, including Reto Suri right on the doorstep.

At 4:19 of the second period, Latvia jumped into a 1-0 lead. On an odd-man rush, Dzerins cruised down the left side, cut in to the hash marks, and zapped a wrister high over Swiss goalie Reto Berra’s glove. Berra would finish with 19 saves on the night.

Masalskis made a fantastic left skate save when Kevin Fiala, from behind the net, set up Cody Almond at point-blank range. Past the midway mark during another Swiss power play, he picked off Mark Streit’s center point blast with his glove.

The boisterous Latvian fans in the crowd of 10,856 urged their team on with unremitting vigor as the game progressed.

The Swiss had a glorious opportunity to equalize when Almond and Suri failed to connect on a short 2-on-0 break with 4:16, but they did get a power play with Oskars Cibulskis sent off for hooking on the play. It was the third Swiss man advantage of the middle frame, and the fifth of the game, but they continued to fire blanks. The Latvians played with grit and blocked shots.

At 18:09, Bieber whacked the puck during a wild goalmouth scramble and it bounced in off Latvian assistant captain Janis Sprukts's stick to draw the Swiss even at 1-1.

Swiss defenceman Eric Blum took a delay-of-game minor with under a minute to play, and while the Latvians didn't score, they had a 4-on-3 man advantage to start overtime. They almost converted when Darzins hit the post.

"You can't compare this game to the game against Sweden," said Masalskis, reflecting on the preceding 8-1 loss. "The whole team played completely differently. The guys were blocking so many shots, so it was a lot easier for me. Everybody did a great job today in our end. We played disciplined--no stupid penalties."

The result improved Latvia’s all-time record against Switzerland at the IIHF World Championship to two wins, nine losses, and one tie. Memorably, at the 2014 Olympics, Latvia defeated the Swiss 3-1 to advance to the quarter-finals against Canada.


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