Canada may have been behind the Latvians after a period of action on Thursday, but the 2014 bronze medalists would come back to take the 11-6 victory in a crazy contest.
Despite being the lowest ranked team in the tournament, the Latvians would strike first. When Canada begins the transition from the smaller, Canadian Hockey League rinks to the larger, more spacious Olympic sized venues, the team struggles to find their footing right away. The Latvians took advantage of Canada’s slow start, and with Peterbourgh Petes goaltender Matt Spencer sitting in the penalty box, Latvian captain Kristaps Zile took a powerful slap shot from the point and beat Zachary Sawchenko under the arm to give the Latvians the 1-0 lead.
The early advantage was short lived, however. At 11:57 into the first, over a minute after Latvia made it 1-0, Glen Gawdin stole the puck away from a slow moving Latvian defender before sending it off to Nicholas Roy, who one-timed the puck past Denijs Romanovskis to tie the game up at one apiece.
The mayhem wouldn’t slow down in the first, a period that saw Canada unable to take a lead at any point. They were, however, close to getting the one goal cushion just three minutes later. Deven Sideroff was awarded a penalty shot after getting taken down on a breakaway, but was unable to capitalize on the one-on-one opportunity. The penalty shot did create a very strange moment for Latvia, as the team elected to go with backup goaltender Mareks Mitens, a shootout specialist, to stop the Sideroff scoring chance.
The big save by Mitens, who returned to the bench after just one shot, put some excitement into the Latvian bench. Just a minute after taking a too many men on the ice penalty, Bruno Priede gave Latvia the 2-1 lead after scoring on a two man shorthanded breakaway, beating Sawchenko easily for the goal.
The back and forth first period was not finished just yet. Early on, it was Nicholas Roy who scored for Canada, so it was time for Jeremy Roy to get one of his own. Canadian star Mitchell Stephens showed great patience skating around the Latvian net, finding a streaking Roy who slapped the puck past Romanovskis for the game-tying goal. The tie wouldn’t last for long, as a Nathan Noel giveaway in front of the Canadian zone allowed Ricards Bernhards to get Latvia’s first equal strength goal of the contest just ten seconds later.
The second period was absolutely dominated by the much-favoured Canadians. With the Canadians pressing for the tying goal, Thomas Chabot’s powerful blast from the point was tipped by Brett Howden, redirecting the puck past Romanovskis’s glove for the game tying goal just three minutes into the period.
A minute later, Romanovskis’ night would be cut short. Latvia’s zone coverage isn’t known for being that great, so allowing Tyler Benson to just stand around and send the puck off to an uncontested Jansen Harkins proved to be lethal as Canada was able to take the 4-3 lead.
Mitens would find his way back into the Latvian net, but almost instantly, Canada made it 5-3. With ___ off the clock, Canadian star Matthew Barzal skated around the whole Latvian zone with the puck before sending it off to Jeremy Roy, who got his second goal of the contest.
Canada’s performance in the first ten minutes of the second period was purely dominant. Before the period was half done, Canadian captain and Saginaw Spirit forward Mitchell Stephens made it 6-3 with a wrist shot, only to have Subury Wolves defenseman Kyle Capobianco score a minute later on a very lucky deflection to add another goal into the back of the net.
With just over ten minutes to go in the period, the Latvians put Romanovskis back in the net for their third goalie switch of the game. The change did little to spark any momentum, as Guillaume Brisebois scored on the very first shot the Latvian netminder would face to make it 8-3 Canada.
Both teams swapped goals in the first four minutes of the game. First, Latvia’s Filips Buncis got his team back on the scoresheet with their second power-play goal of the tournament, beating Sawchenko with an incredible slap shot over the glove a minute in. Three minutes after that, Jeremy Roy secured the rare defenseman hat-trick after finding the puck just outside the Latvian crease for his third goal of the game, making it 9-4 for Canada.
The game pace really came to a halt near the midway mark in the third. Six minutes in, Stephens got his second goal and third point of the game when his wrist shot somehow found a small gap in the top of the net to put Canada in the double digits. Three minutes later, Nicholas Roy, the 45th ranked skater heading into the NHL Draft, got his second of the contest to give Canada the seven goal lead with just over ten minutes to go. Latvia would add two goals late in the game to make it 11-6, but it would be Canada who would manage to take the 11-6 victory in one of the strangest games you’ll see at the tournament.
Canada will have the day off on Friday before taking on the hosts from Switzerland on Saturday. Latvia’s chances to grab a win will likely have to wait, as their next opponent, the Czech Republic on Friday, will likely battle for the gold medal at the end of the tournament.
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