Team Canada to face surprising Latvians in men’s hockey quarter-final
Latvia shocked Switzerland in qualifying round
Anyone having Jonas Hiller-themed nightmares could rest a little easy, as Canada avoided a potentially dicey matchup with Switzerland in the men’s hockey quarter-finals at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
Instead, the Canadians will face a more unknown quantity in Latvia on Wednesday (CBC, CBC.ca/Olympics, noon ET), after the Latvians provided the upset of the tournament to this point with a shocking 3-1 win over the Swiss in the qualifying round on Tuesday.
But the game will likely remain the same, though the opponent is different. Latvia frustrated the Swiss by turning the tables on them, using a similar tight-checking style and relying on Latvian goaltender Edgars Masalskis to make a save when the coverage broke down.
That may spell a little trouble for the Canadians, who have yet to see their offence really click. Canada’s defenders have outscored the forwards so far, with four of the Canadians’ 11 goals coming from defenceman Drew Doughty, who leads in that category.
"Obviously, I think we want more goals from our forwards," said winger Corey Perry. "But at the same time we're trying to adjust everything as well."
But they are probably much happier to face a Latvian side with only one NHLer – Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons – instead of a Swiss team sporting eight NHL players, an elite goaltender in Hiller and a history of giving Canada trouble in international hockey.
Canada narrowly defeated the Swiss in a shootout during the round-robin section of the Vancouver Games, and lost to Switzerland 2-0 in the disappointing 2006 Olympic campaign.
As for the Latvians, Canada hasn’t faced them at the Olympics since 1936 – an 11-0 drubbing – and are likely unfamiliar with the players since all except one plays in leagues other than the NHL. Starting netminder Masalskis plays in the Slovakian league, and the team sports nine players from Latvian-based KHL squad Dinamo Riga.
But Team Canada will be familiar with the man behind Latvia’s bench, as the Buffalo Sabres’ Ted Nolan is coaching the Latvian underdogs.
Latvia lost all three preliminary round matchups before the big win against the Swiss, but weren’t embarrassed, falling 5-3 to Sweden, 4-2 to the Czech Republic, and 1-0 to Switzerland.
Canada heads into the quarter-finals on two days’ rest, which could be a major advantage as the Latvians are playing their second game in two nights, and looked exhausted after the Swiss victory.
The Canadians went undefeated in the preliminary round, easily outmatching Norway and Austria before a tight final preliminary round matchup against Finland, a 2-1 victory in overtime.
Carey Price has emerged as the No. 1 goalie for Canada, and he will get the start against Latvia.
If the Canadians move past the Latvians, they will play the winner of the U.S.-Czech Republic quarter-final matchup on Friday.