SASKATOON – Fans in Saskatoon can rejoice. After earning an 8-2 win against Slovakia, Canada set up the dream duel for first place in Group A against USA on New Year’s Eve.
The two North American teams are both unbeaten after dominating Switzerland, Latvia and Slovakia. The winner of the December 31st game will earn first place in the group and, more importantly, an automatic berth to the semi-finals.
Canada – Slovakia 8-2 (3-0, 4-1, 1-1)
Canada was all business today against the Slovaks, making sure not to put their hopes for first place in the group in jeopardy. Halfway through the first period Taylor Hall put in a wrist shot to break the ice. The fans hadn’t even settled back into their seats when Alex Pietrangelo fired in a shot from the blueline 21 seconds later for the 2-0 lead.
Hall’s second goal at the 10:43 mark was the end of the game for Slovak goaltender Marek Ciliak, who was replaced by Tomas Halasz.
Canada put in another four goals in the second period, but the stanza was most notable for the end of Canada’s shutout streak of 157:25 minutes when Slovakia’s Richard Panik netted the first goal against Canada at this year’s event late in the period.
On Canada’s side it was Luke Adam, Ryan Ellis, Brayden Schenn and Hall scoring to break the game open for a 7-1 lead at the end of 40 minutes. Despite trailing, the Slovaks kept up their hard-hitting game plan. For much of the second period, delivering hard hits was almost as important as scoring for both teams.
With things all but decided, the third period was mostly academic as the teams slowed, scoring one goal each and bringing the final to 8-2.
USA and Canada have a combined 52 goals in their six games with Canada holding a 30-2 goal advantage and the Americans putting in 22 goals while allowing four.
Slovakia has a day off before they have a key game in the bid to make the quarterfinals against Switzerland. The highest Slovakia can place in the group is third as Canada and USA have the top two spots locked up.
Latvia – United States 1-12 (0-6, 1-1, 0-5)
The U.S. skated to its third win with a decisive 12-1 decision over Latvia. It was the third consecutive drubbing for the Latvians who, at this point, need a miracle to avoid the Relegation Round.
Saskatoon has certainly not been a venue for upsets so far, as the North American heavyweights have cruised through the Preliminary Round. Today was no different. The Latvians had no chance against the heavily-favoured Americans from the first whistle.
Danny Kristo scored his first of two first-period goals 2:30 into action, and things just went downhill from there for the out-matched Latvians. USA rattled in three power play goals in the period, and closed it out with a pair of goals coming 36 seconds apart in the last minute of the stanza.
American penalty trouble led to Latvia’s brightest spot of the game when Gvido Kauss scored a five-on-three goal at point-blank range, bringing the crowd to its feet and cutting the lead to 6-1. But the Americans were quick to slam the door on any thoughts Latvia might have had about a huge comeback, restoring the six-goal pad when Chris Kreider put in his second power-play goal.
The third period was all USA. Derek Stepan put in the rebound for an early-period goal, setting the tone for the last 20 minutes. The Americans dominated with another four goals, bringing the final to 12-1. Stepan had two goals in the period. Jason Zucker and Kristo were the other double goal-scorers for the U.S, while Kreider put in a last-minute penalty shot to pace all scorers with a hat trick.
After getting pulled in his first two outings, Janis Kalnins played his first full game in net for the Latvians and was kept busy, facing more than 50 shots. Mike Lee picked up the win in his second appearance for the U.S.
Latvia will play its most important game of the Preliminary Round tomorrow against Switzerland in a confrontation that is sure to have Relegation Round implications. The Americans have the day off to prepare for the hotly anticipated New Year’s Eve battle against Canada.