North Americans squash Latvia's dream

  • 2006-05-17
  • By Justin Wally

FAIR PLAY? Canada steals the puck from Latvian player Aleksandrs Semjonovs during Latvia's most disappointing championship match.

RIGA - In the end, Latvia bowed out of this year's championship with their heads held high, after a disappointing but well-played 4-2 defeat to the U.S.A.. Two days earlier, any talk of pride or even possible qualification would have seemed ridiculously misplaced after the Canadian debacle. Latvia were worse than poor as they lost 11-0 to Canada on May 12, amid unpleasant scenes of crowd disturbances. Upset with the referee's calls, several Latvian fans threw coins and other debris onto the ice.

Their behavior was so upsetting that Latvian forward Janis Sprukts pleaded with the crowd to allow Latvia to complete the final period without the game being abandoned. His team had long since waved the white flag in that encounter, but faced with the prospect of possible qualification for the quarter finals if they could beat the United States, it was an altogether different occasion inside Arena Riga on May 14.

Once again you sensed that the passionate Latvian crowd could play a positive part for their team as the national side opened up the first period in a situation still pregnant with possibilities. The first period was categorized by bruising defensive play from the Americans, who have tended to play with more brawn than technique in these championships so far. After a complete shut out in the first period, team U.S.A. caught the Latvians off guard soon after the restart through Ryan Malone. Many of those watching inside the arena and on television screens around the world might have expected the Latvians to capitulate, but instead within two minutes man-of-the-match Lauris Darzins leveled the score at 1-1. The crowd could sense that the Americans were on the back-foot, and when Dustin Brown left his teammates a man short after two consecutive penalties, the Latvian team had its chance to take the lead on the resulting power plays. Disappointingly they failed to take advantage, and ironically it was Brown who returned to the ice to put the States 2-1 up.

Once again though, Latvia wasn't finished as Aleksandrs Semjonovs shot from distance to tie the score at 2-2. The 9,000-crowd went wild, and Latvia almost went ahead moments later.
There was to be no fairy tale ending though, and just after Darzins left the ice for high-sticking, Patrick O'Sullivan took advantage of the extra man to make it 3-2 for the U.S.A. at 42:27. Latvia huffed and puffed after that as they once again looked for a way back into the game, but they would ultimately pay the price for gifting the States yet another penalty. Ryan Suter's low drive finished in the net at 49:50 and Latvia's chances of qualifying for the quarter finals had gone.