BERNE – Austrian and Latvian fans stood side by side vying to outcheer one another on Wednesday, but in the end only one Group C team was left standing. Latvia won 2-0 and advanced to the Qualifying Round, while Austria now faces the fight against relegation.
Following Sweden's win over the United States, Latvia finished third in Group C and will face Switzerland on Thursday. Austria kicks off its Relegation Round on Friday versus Hungary.
Martins Cipulis and Guntis Dzerins both scored, and goalie Edgars Masalskis earned the shutout for Latvia, which outshot the Austrians 37-21.
"It wasn't easy, but the most important thing was the win," said Latvia's Krisjanis Redlihs.
In the Qualifying Round, Latvia will carry over two points from its 3-2 shootout victory over Sweden. The result also guarantees that Latvia will rank at least among the top 12 World Championship finishers for the eleventh time since cracking the elite division in 1997.
Newly promoted Austria, meanwhile, must now aim to avoid going back down to Division I after last being demoted in Moscow 2007.
For the third straight game, Austrian NHL star Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres was held pointless. Austria scored just two goals in three Preliminary Round games.
The teams exchanged scoring chances in a spirited first period, with Latvia gradually gaining the upper hand. Brückler foiled Girts Ankipans on a late-period breakaway, but Latvia grabbed the lead with 45 seconds left when Herberts Vasiljevs centered the puck from behind the goal line to Cipulis, whose shot surprised Austrian netminder Bernd Brückler high to the glove side. It proved to be the winner.
"It was a close game just like we wanted," said Brückler. "We got a good start and killed off a few penalties. But of course, losing is a big disappointment."
Halfway through the game, Martins Karsums was ejected for a brutal hit on Christopher Harand inside the Austrian blueline, which got the Austrian trainer running out as the 27-year-old forward lay crumpled next to the boards.
Happily, Harand skated off the ice under his own power, and the Austrians went to work with a five-minute man advantage. But the Latvians blocked shots, skated, and checked as if the Old Town of Riga were under siege, and survived without mishap.
"There was some pressure on us, but we created a lot of chances," said Latvian coach Olegs Znaroks. "Our team played well, especially killing off the five-minute penalty."
Just after the major expired, Vasiljevs sent in Lauris Darzins on a partial breakaway, but Brückler smothered the forward's slapshot. With just over three minutes left in the second period, Brückler came up big again, stoning Aleksandrs Nizivijs from the slot with a tough glove save.
In the third period, the Latvians continued sacrificing their bodies to stay ahead. If it wasn't Guntis Galvins valiantly blocking a shot with the back of his leg, it was Guntis Dzerins racing down left wing into the clear, deking past Brückler's wild sprawling foray out of his crease, and firing the puck high into the gaping cage for a 2-0 lead with 5:04 left. Dzerins crashed heavily into the boards, but he wasn't feeling any pain at that moment.
With that clinching goal, the drum-beating of the Latvian fans reached a fever pitch. A double minor for roughing to Austria's Andre Lakos killed off any chances of a comeback.
Brückler was named Austria's Player of the Game, and captain Karlis Skrastins was chosen for Latvia.
"Latvia did an unbelievable job tonight," said Brückler. "Their captain blocked a shot that would have gone into the net, and that shows the heart they had."
Announced attendance was 5,274.