Karlstad, Sweden is a beautiful little city of 80,000 people that boasts the most pubs and restaurants per capita in Sweden. It seems the large contingent of Latvian fans at this year's Ice Hockey World Championship took full advantage of them before their country's team took the ice against Olympic champions Canada on April 27 – the pubs, that is.
The arena shook when Latvia took the ice before the match, and the sound didn't let up until the final whistle blew.
"Wow. You couldn't hear anybody out on the ice trying to talk to each other," Canadian captain Ryan Smyth said, adding that the coaches had to tap the players on the bench when it was time for them to change lines. "It was nice to come back to the room between periods so your ears could stop ringing a bit."
Despite the crowd support, Latvia lost the game 4-1.
Thousands of Latvian fans were back in the arena on April 29 for the team's 3-2 loss to the United States.
Many Latvian fans made the 20-hour journey to Karlstad by the newly revived Riga-Stockholm ferry and then by train, but there were no signs of wear and tear in the overwhelmingly Latvian crowd of 7,040 against Canada.
"I've never seen that before," said Canadian defenseman and player of the game Eric Brewer. "That was awesome. That was unbelievable."
"I hope they all got cabs home," Brewer laughed.
Latvia, playing with Sergejs Naumovs in goal instead of NHLer Arturs Irbe, gave the Canadians all they could handle.
After an early goal by Canada's Brad Schlegel, Gregorijs Pantelejevs drew Latvia level at 1-1.
Latvia was unable to generate much offense, as Canadian goaltender Jean-Sebastian Giguerre only had to make 18 saves to Naumovs' 34. But the 1-1 score held until a goal from Andy McDonald late in the second period that put Canada up for good.
In its second game, Latvia was looking to upset the United States like it did at last year's championship, but it wasn't to be.
In front of a raucous Latvian crowd, U.S. forward Joe Sacco scored just 20 seconds into the game.
After falling behind 3-0 in the first period, Latvia battled back to within a goal, but the Americans were able to hold off a furious finish in the last five minutes by Latvia to win 3-2.
"I thought both teams played equally well," said U.S. head coach Lou Vairo. "It probably would have been fair to be a 3-3 tie. I'm glad it wasn't."
The top three teams from each of the four groups in the qualifying round advance to the next round of the tournament. Latvia can advance with a win against Italy on April 30. That score was not available as the The Baltic Times went to press.