RIGA – Playing before a deafening crowd at Arena Riga, Group E hosts Latvia (11th) took care of Great Britain (21st) 6-2, winning their first game of the Final Olympic Qualification tournament and setting up a key matchup with Kazakhstan (17th).
"We came out a little bit flat today and we tried to do too much at the start," said captain Sandis Ozolinsh. "But the guys settled down in the second period and we were able to play our game."
Down only 2-1 and having managed to keep up with the higher-ranked Latvians in the first 20 minutes, Great Britain ran into penalty trouble and managed just three shots on net in the second period. Latvia grabbed the insurance goal midway through the frame on the power play, when Aleksandrs Nizivijs passed to Oskars Bartulis waiting on the point for the one-time shot that blew past British goaltender Stevie Lyle stick-side for the 3-1 lead.
"We played well with them at the outset of the game," said Great Britain head coach Tony Hand. "But we took a couple of soft penalties trying to get back into the game, and obviously you can't give Latvia opportunities like that."
Latvia put the game away in the third period, as Ronalds Kenins added another tally with a shot from the high slot assisted by Roberts Jekimovs and Mikelis Redlihs, and Georgijs Pujacs closed out the scoring with a goal coming with just under seven minutes left to make the score 5-1.
"We had to work hard to get the win," said Latvia head coach Ted Nolan. "We were able to find our legs in the second and third period and our power play was very effective."
The opening faceoff took place inside a very energetic atmosphere, with a loud contingent of British hockey fans being drowned out by the very loud Latvian supporters.
Just under five minutes into the first period, the hometown fans ramped up the volume even higher when Juris Stals beat out a British defender to the puck on the forecheck, making a pass to a streaking Gints Meija for the opening goal.
But Great Britain struck right back a minute later as Colin Shields stole the puck away along the boards in the Latvian zone and made a centering pass to Robert Dowd, who shot the puck five-hole through goaltender Edgars Masalskis for the equalizer.
Following the opening goals both teams played mostly mistake-free hockey through the rest of the frame, until Ben O’Connor was whistled for interference at 13:12. With 29 seconds remaining on the power play Aleksandrs Nizivijs passed the puck down to Lauris Darzins sitting on the goal line to the right of the net. Darzins found Miks Indrasis with a cross-crease pass and Indrasis roofed it home to put the Latvians back up by a goal, a lead the team would not give up the rest of the way.
Latvia (1W-0L) will face Kazakhstan (1W-0L) on Friday, in a game that for the winning team could go a long way towards qualifying for Sochi. Great Britain (0W-1L) will face France (0W-1L) with both teams needing a victory to keep their Olympic hopes alive.
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