HELSINKI – With a 6-3 victory, newly promoted Austria dealt Latvia its third consecutive loss at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship on Tuesday. The Austrians got three goals from their defencemen and were full value for the win.
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Florian Iberer, Andre Lakos, Thomas Vanek, Mario Altmann, Michael Raffl, and Daniel Oberkofler scored for Austria, which earned its first three points of the tournament. Thomas Hundertpfund added two assists.
"We played a defensively solid game," said Austria's Markus Peintner. "We knew Latvia has a good team. They were the favorites and we were the underdog. We used our chances, and now we're happy we got the three points."
Armands Berzins, Agris Saviels, and Lauris Darzins replied for Latvia.
Austrian netminder Bernhard Starkbaum prevailed over his Latvian counterpart Edgars Masalskis. Final shots on goal favoured Latvia 39-25.
"I know I exaggerate, but [it's as] they took six shots and scored six goals," said Latvia's Krisjanis Redlihs. "We just couldn't get it in.
Austria is vying to end its pattern of bouncing up and down between the elite division and Division I, and this was a step in the right direction. Its last four World Championship appearances were in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011.
The Latvians opened the scoring at 3:52. From the right faceoff circle, Berzins converted a heads-up cross-ice pass from Ronalds Kenins.
Latvia continued to press in the early going, and Starkbaum had to be sharp. Martins Cipulis and Andris Dzerins tested the Austrian goalie with wicked shots from the slot.
Latvian assistant captain Janis Sprukts skated off around the 11:30 mark after taking a stick in the neutral zone, but he would return to action.
The Austrians tied it up at 13:45 off a faceoff in the Latvian end, as Florian Iberer’s wrister from the blueline found its way through a maze of sticks and bodies and past Masalskis.
With five minutes remaining in the first period, Thomas Vanek had a glorious opportunity to score on a breakaway, but he lifted a backhand off the post.
Austria went up 2-1 on the power play at 17:09 when Andre Lakos unleashed a shot from the blueline that tipped up under the crossbar.
At 3:05 of the second period, Vanek made it 3-1, stealing the puck in the neutral zone, cutting in off the left side and zinging a perfect shot high on the glove side.
Just under four minutes later, it was 4-1 Austria on Altmann’s bomb from the line. Masalskis was visibly frustrated, shaking his head and gloves in disgust.
With 1:52 left in the middle frame, Latvia cut the gap to 4-2, as Saviels stepped in from the blue line and winged a shot past Starkbaum on the short side.
The Latvians came out buzzing to start the third period. Capitalizing on the power play, they made it a one-goal game 52 seconds in when Darzins collected a bad-angle rebound and roofed it over Starkbaum.
But the comeback would fall short, even though Latvia outshot its opponents 20-8 in the final stanza.
At 9:42, Raffl restored Austria's two-goal edge, racing to the net and converting Hundertpfund's savvy centering pass from below the goal line.
Oberkofler sealed Austria's victory with a breakaway goal with 3:50 left.
"[The Latvians are] technically and tactically a really good team, and they can handle controlling the game, but maybe luck was on our side," said Peintner. "Our goalie was unreal."
Starkbaum was named Austria's Player of the Game, while Darzins took the honors for Austria.
Next up, Austria faces Germany on Wednesday, while the Latvians take on Slovakia on Thursday.
Latvia had won four out of its five previous World Championship games against Austria, only falling 5-2 in the teams’ first encounter in 1999.