2012 IIHF World Championship: Norwegians down Latvia

By IndepthAfrica
In Hockey
May 12th, 2012
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STOCKHOLM – Norway got a leg up in the quest for what’ll likely be the Stockholm group’s final playoff berth, defeating Latvia 3-0 in Saturday’s early game. Goalie Lars Haugen posted the shutout and Jonas Holøs scored the eventual winner in the first period.

Andreas Martinsen and Patrick Thoresen also tallied for Norway, which earned its second consecutive regulation win and now has seven points. Latvia remains at six points.

“This was a huge game,” said Martinsen. “After the win against Italy we want to go to the quarter-final, and we knew this would be a big game to get there.”

It was Haugen’s first shutout of this tournament and second all-time at the IIHF World Championships. He bested Latvian starter Edgars Masalskis, with Norway outshooting Latvia 30-25.

Neither team has an easy road in its remaining two round-robin games. Latvia faces Denmark (Monday) and Sweden (Tuesday), while Norway has Germany (Sunday) and Denmark (Tuesday).

“We have to have a good meal, good sleep and be ready to play the next two games,” said Latvia’s Kaspars Daugavins. “There’s no way back now. If we lose one we don’t have a chance, if we win both we might have a chance.”

The result deviated from a history of Latvian dominance over Norway at the IIHF World Championship. Prior to this game, Latvia had won seven out of eight encounters, its only defeat coming in Russia 2007 (a 7-4 Norwegian triumph).

The Norwegians are hoping for their third top-eight finish since 2008, while Latvia last appeared in the quarter-finals in 2009.

It was a hard-working, disciplined effort by Norway, frustrating the Latvians at every turn.

“We were making bad passes and could not get out of our end,” said Daugavins. “Add to that some bad bounces, and it was almost impossible to get anything going. Hands down they were better than us today.”

After more than 12 minutes of spirited but scoreless play, the Latvians thought they’d opened the scoring when Gints Meija raced down the right side and zinged one off Haugen’s right post. But video review clearly showed the puck did not enter the net.

Tempers flared and Norway’s Marius Holtet and Latvia’s Marius Saulietis were penalized for a wrestling match near the benches, leading to a 4-on-4 situation.

After that sequence, the Norwegians drew first blood 15 seconds later. It was a weird goal. Holøs raced into the Latvian zone with the puck, and Latvian defenceman Rodrigo Lavins tried to sweep the puck away but ended up bobbling it off Holøs and into his own net.

Latvian enjoyed an extended man advantage, including a 4-on-3, but couldn’t solve Haugen. A furious even-strength assault saw the puck get behind the Norwegian netminder, but it was swept away in time. Norway came close as well on a late-period power play with Andris Dzerins in the box.

At 5:54 of the second period, Norway grabbed a 2-0 lead. Mats Trygg hammered a slapshot from the right wall that tipped in front and eluded a screened Masalskis. Martinsen got the goal by going to the front of the net.

“I won the puck in the corner, and saw Trygg on the blueline,” said Martinsen. “I know he has a great shot. I went to the net, and it hit my skate and went in.”

With 1:17 left in the middle frame, Norway went up 3-0 as Thoresen capitalized on an Oskars Cibulskis turnover near the hash marks and scored with a quick blocker-side shot.

It was not a good time for supporters of the maroon-and-white squad. Latvia’s Mikelis Redlihs got a puck in the face and went off bleeding. Then Daugavins used his stick on Norwegian captain Ole-Kristian Tollefsen at the horn and was assessed a slashing minor.

The Norwegians nearly went up by four early in the third period when Holøs skated in and fired a shot that deflected off both Latvian goalposts.

Latvia got a late opportunity to spoil Haugen’s shutout when Per-Åge Skrøder hauled down Meija in the Norwegian zone, but they couldn’t convert with the man advantage.

The dying seconds saw a contingent of Norwegian fans jubilantly singing behind Haugen’s net, while Latvian drums echoed without their usual fervor. When the game ended, the Norwegians skated over to salute their fans with their sticks.

“It was a real complete effort,” said Norway’s Mads Hansen. “We were talking about it on the bench that this was our best game in a long time.”

LUCAS AYKROYD

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