BRATISLAVA – It wasn't easy - even if it was pretty at times - but the Czech Republic found a way to score the necessary goals to beat Latvia in their first game, 4-2.
Czech Republic - Latvia 4-2 (1-1, 1-1, 2-0) Game Sheet Photos
Patrik Elias scored one and assisted another, as did Martin Havlat for the Czechs. Ondrej Pavelec made 22 saves for the Czech Republic. Edgars Masalskis stopped 30 Czech shots in the Latvian goal.
"It was a great hockey game. I'd like to thank our goaltender, Ondrej Pavelec, who played very well in his first game as a starting goalie in a World Championship," said Czech Republic coach Alois Hadamczik.
The first games of the 2011 World Championship have been a chain of battles between Davids and Goliaths, like the game between Latvia and the Czech Republic. Everybody knows what to expect, but even when everything goes according to the unwritten script, we’re surprised.
Latvia came into the game, relying on the quickness of its goalie, Edgars Masalskis, and the skills of its speedy forwards who would strike whenever they got their chances, trying to get the precious first goal.
Latvia did get the first goal halfway through the first period when Lauris Darzins beat Ondrej Pavelec with a wrist shot from the slot.
"We started off pretty well. They were the better team at the beginning, more aggressive. We had our chances on quick breakouts. That’s how we scored the first goal and that’s how we played the game," Latvia's Herberts Vasiljevs said.
The Czechs outshot Latvia 13-6 in the first period. But it was one the least dangerous looking ones that tied the game.
Jakub Voracek was trying to get the puck to Tomas Rolinek in front of the net, but a Latvian defenceman intercepted the pass. Rolinek followed the puck to the extended goal line, spun around, and fired the puck towards the net, beating Masalskis on the stick side.
"I’m very happy we got three points. It was a huge win. Not every game is going to be easy. We’ve just gotta work hard every game and be patient like we were today, and we’ll be fine," Voracek said.
Early in the second period, the Czechs had a great scoring chance, which Masalskis stopped. Gints Meija grabbed the puck and sent it to Armands Berzins with one hand. Berzins carried the puck to the Czech zone and found Roberts Bukarts on the far side. Bukarts onetimed it past Pavelec to give Latvia the lead for the second time in the game.
With 7:58 remaining in the second period, Patrik Elias fired the puck towards the Latvian goal from the exact same spot as Rolinek when he scored the Czechs’ first goal. Elias’s shot hit Masalskis’s blocker and was deflected to the net, and the Czechs had tied the game, again.
"Our goalie kept us in the game. When the score was 2-1 for us, we had a few chances, and you never know: with better luck, maybe in the second period we could have taken a 3-1 lead," Vasiljevs said
The shots on goal after two periods were 26-14 for the Czechs.
"We said before the game that we had to wait for their mistakes, and we’d be OK. That’s exactly what happened. We’ve got to cut down on a few mistakes in our defensive zone and we’ll be fine," Voracek said.
The Czech Republic took charge of the game early in the third period. Patrik Elias dropped the puck to Martin Havlat right after the blueline. Havlat took a few steps in, and fired a wrist shot from the top of the circles, beating Masalskis high on the glove side at 1:15.
"They were the better team. They broke us down in the third period and had better legs," said Vasiljevs.
Roman Cervenka killed Latvians’ dreams of tying the game when he grabbed a loose puck in the neutral zone, and scored the 4-2 goal off a breakaway with just 1:49 seconds remaining in the game.
The Czechs had to play most of the game with just five defencemen, after Radek Martinek was injured in the first period, when Latvia’s Arturs Kulda checked him in the corner.
The hit is under review from the IIHF Disciplinary Panel to determine whether there will be supplemental disciplinary action. Martinek was brought to hospital due to his head injury. He suffered a hematoma and might be gone for the rest of the tournament according to first information from the Czech team staff.