KOSICE, Slovakia – Latvia has saved their best for last with Kaspars Saulietis scoring two goals and adding an assist in his side’s 4-1 victory over Austria at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championships.
Going into the game the equation for both teams could not have been simpler – the winner would confirm their place in the Elite Division World Championships for 2012 while the loser would be demoted to Division 1.
Having split a warm up series heading into the World Championships at one game apiece it was difficult to call exactly what way this game would go between this year’s underachievers in Slovakia. But it was the Latvians who were showing more grit when it counted in a game that they never looked like losing, despite only getting 39 shots on goal compared to 41 from the Austrians.
Saulietis was the star for Latvia, assisting on his side’s second goal in the opening period before sealing the victory with a goal apiece in each of the two remaining periods. Edgars Masalskis was no less impressive, coming within 59 seconds of a shutout. Nonetheless, it was still by far his best performance in Slovakia, stopping 39 shots.
One of the standouts in the national team set up this season has been Roberts Bukarts so it was somewhat fitting to see him claim a goal in his side’s final game of 2011 as he opened the Latvian account in the 6th minute after pouncing on a deflection of Austrian goalie Fabian Weinhandl’s pads.
Saulietis then began to leave his mark on the game, setting up team mate Mikelis Redlih’s for his side’s second goal in the 14th minute which would complete goal scoring in the opening period.
Having gone the opening period without making an indiscretion, Austria were pinged early in the second with Latvia going on power play in the second minute of action. The Austrians were then made to pay as Saulietis grabbed his third to give Latvia a commanding 3-0 lead.
Early in the final period Martins Cipulis was handed a golden opportunity to make it 4-0 for the Latvian after being awarded a penalty shot when he was hooked from behind. His shot went wide however, leaving the lead at 3-0.
As time began to run out, Austria upped their attack on the Latvian goal but Masalskis was remaining resolute. The Austrians became more frustrated and were soon after made to pay for a further indiscretion as Saulietis grabbed his second power play goal of the night in the 49th minute.
Talking to iihf.com following the game, Latvian Captains Herberts Vasiljevs contributed the victory to his side’s mentality. “When you go into a game thinking 'don't lose', then you're going to lose. We came in with the thought we have to win it. That was the difference. We weren't nervous. We went out and gave everything we had, and that's the result.”