RIGA - Latvia gave both the Canadians and Americans a hard time during last week's World Ice Hockey Championships in Innsbruck, Austria. After a strong performance against world champions Canada (4-6), Latvia faced the U.S.A. with confidence.
But despite all efforts, even an encouraging score by Janis Sprukts in the first period, Latvia lost to America 3-1. On May 5 Latvia reclaimed its reputation, beating Slovenia 3-1 to advance to the qualifying round. Aivars Tribuncovs scored the eventual game-winner in the second period, and Irbe made 21 saves to preserve the win.
"Latvia played well against Canada and the U.S.A.," said Slovenian Head Coach Kari Savolainen. "We expected a tough time from Latvia and that is just what we got."
Slovenia played its best hockey of the tournament but, as usual, could not generate much offense. As the first period ended, Slovenia was left on the ice without any goals. Latvia took a 2-0 lead when Grigors Panteleyjevs slid the puck to Aigars Cipruss, who passed it to a breaking Tribuncovs. The latter deflected the puck on Glaber, picked up his rebound in stride, and put it in.
Tribuncovs wasn't the only member playing with confidence. Panteleyjevs played superbly for Latvia, but unfortunately had to leave the ice due to an injury in the third. By this time the Slovenian team was visibly tired, allowing Latvia to dominate the rink. In addition, Slovenia took four minor penalties in the third period.
Latvia went on to beat Ukraine 3-1 on May 7, but unfortunately, this winning streak was broken when the team tied with Finland (0-0) on May 9.
Although the Latvians didn't score any goals against Finland, they dominated control over the puck, maintaining their confidence that they could exchange equal scoring chances with the Finns. Midway through the first period, Irbe drew a game-penalty delay for clearing the puck over the glass. As a result, Finland kept the puck in the offensive zone for almost two minutes. Yet Irbe held the team's fort and the game remained scoreless.
The second period, just like the first, cost Latvia a man. Aleksandrs Semjenovs took a four-minute penalty for holding the stick, but nothing resulted. As the period moved on, the game became more cautious and defensive, both sides realizing the longer the game remained scoreless, the more important the first goal would be.
By the time the third period started, it was clear that the next goal would lead to the final result. With their nerves suddenly on edge, the players became tentative and sloppy, fearful of making mistakes that could cost their team a place in the quarter-finals.
Yet their hopes were crushed by Sweden on May 10, when the Scandinavian team defeated Latvia 9-1. The Swedish victory put Latvia in ninth place.
Once it was clear that they wouldn't win, Latvian Head Coach Leonids Beresnevs took the opportunity to use some of his teenage prospects. One up-and-coming player, 1987-born Oskars Bartulis, was called for interference at 15:03. Guntis Galvins, a 19-year-old defenseman, also received ice time. Maris Ziedins scored one goal in the third period. Galvins earned his first points in the IIHF World Championship when he assisted the goal. Sweden will go on to play Switzerland in the quarter-finals.