Individualistic efforts put Latvia in deep freeze

  • 2012-05-16
  • By Jared Grellet

RIGA - The Latvian men’s hockey team’s 2012 IIHF World Championship campaign has ended in a fizzle with the team failing to make the quarter-finals after crashing to four straight losses. On the back of a solid warm-up campaign and two wins from their opening three games, the mood in Latvia was optimistic as the national team look headed for their first top-eight finish at a World Championship since 2009.

However, following their 5-0 thumping of Italy back on May 8, Latvia’s campaign went into an unstoppable downward spiral, with the team only managing to score one goal in their final four group games, seeing them go from sitting second in the group, to fifth spot with just two wins from seven games.

After easily seeing off Italy, Latvia looked set to pick up more points two nights later when Armands Berzins put Latvia 1-0 up over the Czech Republic in the 24th minute. Not even the biggest skeptic would have believed that this was to be Latvia’s last goal of their campaign. The Czechs came back, tying scores up in the 29th minute before hurting Ted Nolan’s men late with two more goals in the final ten minutes, ruling out any chance of the game going into overtime.
On Saturday afternoon, Latvia was hoping to bounce back from the loss as they turned their focus to defeating Norway, for the first time in history. Latvia must have been wondering what they had done to upset the hockey gods early on when they twice saw the puck ricochet off the goal post, whilst the Norwegians were having far better luck at the other end of the ice, scoring once in the opening period and twice in the second to wrap up the 3-0 win and all but confirm their place in the top four in the group.

With their campaign hanging on by a thread and with two games remaining, Latvia went out looking for redemption when they played Denmark on Monday night. But it was another lackluster performance from the Latvians, who appeared to have lost any will to win, playing as what captain Janis Sprukts described as a bunch of individuals, falling to the previously winless Danish who scored twice in the second period for the 2-0 victory.

Following the demoralizing loss to the Danes, Latvia was left with little more than pride to play for when they took on group hosts Sweden in their final group game on Tuesday night. With no chance of making the playoffs and a guaranteed fifth-place finish in their group, motivation was lacking for Nolan’s team – even more so after five minutes, when the Swedes moved into a 1-0 lead. Trailing 3-0 with 10 minutes remaining and with little hope of a comeback, emotions finally got the better of the Latvians, whose campaign may now become better remembered for a nasty infraction involving forward Koba Jass.

Having been dealt a two minute penalty for roughing with Sweden’s Erik Karlsson, it was evident in Jass’ body language as he headed to the penalty box that the fight was far from over. Returning to the ice following his two minutes in the box, Jass confronted Karlsson immediately, spinning him round with his stick before letting out a flurry of punches. Adding insult to injury, Jass lost the fight and was ejected from the game.

Missing out on a quarter-final berth also denies Latvia direct entry to the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. However, as one of the highest finishing teams outside of the top-eight, Latvia will hold the right to host an Olympic qualifying tournament.