Latvia shocks Switzerland in men’s hockey qualifying round
Date set with Canada on Wednesday
Latvia provided the upset of the men’s Olympic hockey tournament so far with a 3-1 win on Tuesday over a heavily favoured Swiss side, advancing to the quarter-finals and a date with Canada.
Sporting only one NHLer, Latvia used first-period goals from Oskars Bartulis and Lauris Darzins to pace the team to a two-goal lead. Switzerland replied with a goal from Martin Pluss in the second, but the team’s offensive woes continued. The Swiss only managed to score three goals in its four games at the 2014 Olympics, and it’s the chief reason why the team is heading home early.
Darzins added an empty-netter in the final minute of the game to seal the victory. The win guarantees Latvia’s best-ever finish in men’s hockey at the Olympics.
Latvian netminder Edgars Masalskis was a major thorn in Switzerland’s side. Staring down elite NHL goalie Jonas Hiller at the other end, Masalskis – who plays in the Slovakian league – was up to the task, making some crucial saves down the stretch to preserve the Latvian lead.
Masalskis made 30 stops, while Hiller turned away 21, as the elite NHL goalie saw his chance to steal a game from Canada slip away. Instead, it’s Latvia who has a date with the Canadians on Wednesday.
Though surprising, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility for the Latvians to beat the Swiss – the two teams met in the round-robin portion and Switzerland needed a last-second goal to grab a 1-0 win.
Latvia was at it again on Tuesday. Normally the side that gives stronger team fits with its tight checking and solid goaltending, Switzerland saw the tables turn at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, with the Latvians frustrating the Swiss at every turn with their own tight defensive style.
Coached by Buffalo Sabres bench boss Ted Nolan, Latvia entered the game ranked 11th out of 12 teams in the Olympic tournament after the preliminary round, losing three straight games and only finishing ahead of Norway. Switzerland was sixth, carried by Hiller’s strong play in the round-robin, as the Anaheim Duck netminder notched two shutouts in a couple of 1-0 victories.
Switzerland carried the play in the opening minutes of the game, but it was Latvia’s Bartulis who struck first, his shot going in past Hiller off a body in front of the net eight minutes into the first period.
Latvia made it 2-0 on a power play goal from Darzins three minutes later, forcing the Swiss to do something they haven’t done in three games: score more than one goal.
Switzerland cut the deficit to 2-1 in the second period thanks to a one-timer from Pluss. The game could’ve been easily tied if not for a couple of big saves in the frame from Masalskis, as the Swiss put a lot of pressure on the Latvians throughout the period.
The Swiss pressed hard again in the third period, outshooting Latvia 12-5, but couldn’t get another goal by Masalskis, and Darzins sealed the victory with his empty-netter in the final minute.