RIGA – Latvia will stage its second straight comeback in the top division of the U18 category next year in Switzerland. The Baltic nation won the 2011 IIHF World U18 Championship Division I Group A on home ice in Riga.
Latvia had the strongest roster in the event. It didn’t rely on any single player, boasting more depth than its opponents. The Latvians could even afford to split ice time between two goalies, and both Elvis Merzlikins and Rihards Cimermanis ended up on top of the goalie stats with save percentages of 97.8 and 97.4 respectively.
The opening game against the defensively strong Italians was the toughest challenge for the maroon-and-white squad. Latvia won the game 3-0 thanks to two markers from Roberts Lipsbergs and one from Arturs Birstins, while Merzlikins made 33 saves to earn a shutout.
The Latvian train rolled on with wins over Kazakhstan (8-1), Great Britain (5-1) and Hungary (5-0). Up to 2,700 fans followed the U18 action at Arena Riga, the venue built for the 2006 IIHF World Championship.
The Italians, who were promoted to Division I last year, were the surprise team in Riga. Winning Division I silver marks the biggest success ever for the Italians in the World U18 Championship.
Kazakhstan won the battle for bronze with a 3-2 overtime victory over Hungary. Great Britain finished in last place.
Japan didn’t participate due to force majeure. Just as with the men’s and women’s senior national teams, the Japanese stayed away after the natural disaster that hit the country last month.
1. Latvia 12
2. Italy 9
3. Kazakhstan 5
4. Hungary 4
5. Great Britain 0
Individual Awards as selected by the Tournament Directorate:
Best Goalkeeper: Elvis Merzlikins, Latvia
Best Defenceman: Ruben Rampazzo, Italy
Best Forward: Benjamin Nemes, Hungary