RIGA - They gave it their best shot, but in the end it just wasn't good enough.
The Latvian national team was firmly put in its place when it met Sweden in the Hockey World Championship quarterfinals on May 5, who in turn went on to meet Canada in a thrilling finale to the tournament.
The Latvia-Sweden game got off to a rocky start when Sweden scored almost straight away with a goal by Jonas Hogland in the third minute. The Swedes then doubled their lead on a break away in the middle of the first period when Daniel Alfredsson scored. Then, while Latvia was playing with only three men due to penalties, Sweden's Dick Tarnstrom grabbed a goal in the last minute of the first period from a power play.
It was clear from early on in the game that penalties were going to be a major factor. Every penalty was cheered by both sets of fans in what was by and large an ill-tempered game. And the aggression got worse with every minute. As the penalties increased, so did the evident frustration on the part of the Latvian players.
But Latvia simply was not playing well enough to come back from a 3-0 deficit against a team of Sweden's quality. Yet, despite this, the Latvian fans still cheered as if they were winning. The fans knew that this was going to be the last game of the tournament and they were going to go out screaming.
Latvia's Viktor Ignatjevs scored in the second minute of the third period to salvage some self-respect for Latvia. But then the Swedes clinically ended any hopes of a shock comeback when Per Johan Axelsson scored in the 10th minute of the third period to put the score at 4-1.
The only thing that prevented the score line from being more unflattering was some outstanding saves by Latvian goalkeeper Arturs Irbe.
All in all it was a typical tournament for Latvia. It showed that it can play some wonderful hockey, but its lack of consistency ultimately let it down. On the strength of this championship, it has a way to go before it's going to beat the hockey elite.
After defeating Latvia, Sweden went on to beat the U.S.A. 3-2 in their semifinal encounter, while Canada booked its place in the final by beating Slovakia 2-1.
The final between Canada and Sweden on May 9 was a memorable one, with Canada coming from behind to clinch the game 5-3. In the runner's up game, the U.S.A. beat Slovakia with an overtime goal to win the game 1-0.