What to watch
What’s impressive about Canada is that every year they bring a team that has limited experience playing together but once the first puck is dropped at the World Championships, they look like they’ve been functioning as a team for years. This is testament to the Canadian ethic in representing the national team and being a solid citizen when asked to play. Canada’s pressure on Latvia will no doubt be relentless.
Who to watch
Take your pick. Steve Stamkos has come into his own playing in this tournament. Stamkos has scored six goals in six games, an average of a goal per game. Stamkos is playing with confidence, which will greatly benefit the Tampa Bay Lightning for the 2009-10 season. Martin St. Louis has scored timely goals for Team Canada and is the leading point getter in the tournament with 14 points. Shea Weber is playing like a world class defenceman whose booming shot from the point on power plays is a tremendous asset. Weber has amassed four goals and 10 points in six games.
Canada is strong in so many areas. Offence. Defence. Goaltending. But the one area that does not get enough credit is their preparation. Team Canada treats the World Championships with a seriousness that is demonstrated by their three gold medals in the last six years. They come to the World Championships not to simply to compete, but to win. As such, no rival is taken lightly and Latvia will be no exception.
Chris Mason and Dwayne Roloson have formed a dynamic tandem. Mason, in his first World Championships, has done almost everything asked of him. He’s won all three of his starts and has given up one goal, good for a 0.67 goals against average. His 98% save percentage is equally sublime, and he will get the start against Latvia. Roloson, the old soldier, had also showed plenty of energy. He’s won two of his three starts.
What to watch
Oftentimes, it seems that Latvia gets by on dogged determination and the love of their fans. Somewhere nestled at PostFinance Arena, there will be Latvian fans that function as a sixth skater, if you will, for the team. Otherwise, head coach Olegs Znaroks must exert control over his bench and their ability to stay disciplined will mean everything. Staying out of the penalty box is essential.
Who to watch
There’s a nucleus - though aging - that has been in place for the Latvian national team over the years. Herberts Vasiljevs is tied for the team lead in scoring with two goals and seven points. These numbers are Vasiljevs’ best tournament figures to date. Aleksandrs Nizivijs has three goals and four assists. Martins Cipuls is enjoying his best World Championships with four goals and six points.
There’s an almost an indefinable quality to the Latvian World Championship experience. Latvia does what it has to do to stay up, sometimes against difficult odds. Their best finish over the last decade was 7th at the 2004 World Championship. At the same time, they will surprise teams from time to time in big games. They defeated Russia in Russia in 2000 and the United States in 2001 and in this tournament upset Sweden. Their greatest strength is their ability to persevere.
Edgars Masalskis has seen all the action in net for Latvia. He’s won four of the six games he’s started with a goals against average of 2.27. Since Arturs Irbe’s retirement, Masalskis has been the number one goaltender. He will be tested at every turn against Canada.