International Ice Hockey Federation

Latvia stuns Swiss, 3-1

Winners to play Canada for first time since 1936

Published 19.02.2014 00:20 GMT+4 | Author Andrew Podnieks
Latvia stuns Swiss, 3-1
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 18: Latvia's Janis Sprukts #5 celebrating Lauris Darzins #10 first period goal against Switzerland with Krisjanis Redlihs #9 and Mikelis Redlihs #24 during men's qualification action at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Latvia scored two first-period goals and then protected the lead - barely - beating Switzerland 3-1 to advance to the quarter-finals against Canada tomorrow.

The score reversed the score from their game last week in which the Swiss won 1-0 on an own goal by Latvia.

"It’s pretty historic," enthused Kaspars Daugavins, "the first time ever in quarter-finals in the Olympics. It’s great. It’s something amazing. Not many people believed we can do this, but we proved them wrong."

In the end, the Swiss go home because of a lack of scoring. After becoming the first team to play in three 1-0 games in one Olympics, they mustered only one more goal tonight. Three goals in four games will not get a team to the quarter-finals.

Martin Pluss acknowledged as much: "If you don’t score, it’s tough. You might win some games 1-0, but in the long run you’ve got to be able to score more."

For the Latvians, they are playing only their fifth Olympics, and, regardless of what happens against Canada tomorrow, will finish higher than ever before.

The last time Canada and the Latvians played at the Olympics was on 7th February 1936 at 9am, at the Olympia Kunsteis-Stadion in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. In that game, Hugh Farquarson led Canada with four goals and Ralph St. Germain had three. Final score: 11-0 for Canada.

"Canada is one of the greatest hockey teams ever to play hockey," said Daugavins. "It’s going to be really tough for us, but we’re going to try to give them a hard time. You never know. Miracles have happened before."

To a man the Latvians credited incoming coach Ted Nolan. "He got us here," Girgensons said. "When he took over, we qualified for the Olympics. That’s a start right there. He’s doing a great job with motivating guys to work hard, just supporting each player. You can see the outcome. All the guys on the ice are giving their best."

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The Swiss started the game in control. They played perfect defence and had the puck in the Latvian end much of the first several minutes. But it was the Latvians who opened the scoring on an innocent play.

Kaspars Daugavins came off the side boards and got the puck to Oskars Bartulis near the point. He floated an easy shot to the goal, but Jonas Hiller was screened and didn’t see it until the red light was on. The goal came at 8:38 and ended Hiller’s shutout streak this year at 128:38.

Latvia went up by two goals on a more standard play. Working the puck around in the Swiss end with the man advantage, Mikelis Redlihs made a great pass through the four-man box to Lauris Darzins to the back side of the play.

Darzins controlled the puck and snapped a wrister over Hiller’s glove, stunning the Swiss and throwing the game in an unexpected direction.

The Latvians made a classic error by coming out for the second period with its only goal being to sit on the lead. The Swiss gladly accepted the strategy and peppered Masalskis with quality shots. The goalie stopped Andres Ambuhl point blank with a sensational glove save early, but Redlihs also had a good chance that was stopped by Hiller.

Coach Ted Nolan called a timeout for Latvia and a short time later Ronalds Kenins and Zemgus Girgensons had great chances to increase the lead, but they failed to find the back of the net. Sure enough, the Swiss got one back at 15:01. Reto Suri made a nice little pass in the slot to Martin Pluss who snapped a low shot to the glove side of Masalskis to make it 2-1.

The Swiss dominated the last four minutes, and although they didn’t tie the game they gave every indication of being prepared to do so early in the third.

That didn't happen. The third period saw Latvia skate with the Swiss for the first half and then sit back again. The Swiss had their finest chance late in the period when Suri came down the wing on a clear chance, but he put his shot right into the stomach of Masalskis.

Darzins added an empty-netter with 61 seconds left on the clock to seal the improbable victory.

"If you don’t think you’re going to win, you’re not going to win," suggested Girgensons. "I think we have probably the best team we’ve had in a long time. I think we’ve improved every single game moving on, and did a good job today."