HALIFAX – Dressed in their 1960 throwback jersey, Team USA topped Latvia 4-0 to win their opening game of the 2008 IIHF World Championships. Solid goaltending by Tim Thomas and clutch special teams scoring helped secure the win.
The Americans scored in each period and outshot Latvia 49-24.
Team USA began by keeping much of the action in the Latvian end of the ice. Their passing was crisp and the ability to gain the zone in sustaining an attack was equally effective. The Americans peppered Latvian netminder Edgars Masalskis with shots throughout. On the power play they were equally impressive, scoring all four goals with the man advantage.
"The powerplay was cooking," said Patrick Kane. "We've got a lot of young players but still we are going to try and win a goal medal."
Dustin Brown capitalized on one of those man advantage opportunities when he scored at 7:41 of the first period. After Jekabs Redlihs was whistled off for holding, Team USA wasted no time as a Paul Martin slapper was initially stopped by Masalskis but Brown was there on the doorstep to put it home.
While most of the action favored the Americans, there was one exceptional opportunity for Latvia in the first period. Juris Stals was alone in front of the net and fired a shot that was stopped by Thomas.
As the game wore on, the Latvians grew confident and found their stride in the middle frame. Aleksandrs Nizivijs fed a neat pass to Kaspars Daugavins who fanned on it. But several minutes later, Martins Cipuls sent a one-timer on net that Thomas gobbled up.
"I played Latvia about a decade ago and I remember they had a lot of veteran players then, but they are not a bad team. "In fact, I played against (Herberts) Vasiljevs in my first IHL (International Hockey League) game, and he scored the winner."
USA forward Patrick Kane scored his first-ever senior World Championship goal off a pass from Paul Martin. After accepting the pass, Kane skated slightly inside the top of the left faceoff circle and let go a wrister that beat Masalskis, putting Team USA up 2-0.
Kane would finish the game with a goal and two assists. Paul Martin added three assists.
Team USA threatened to increase their lead when Agris Saviels pulled down Lee Stempniak and a penalty shot was signaled. Stempniak went in without much finesse and determined to shoot. Masalskis rose to the occasion by stopping the shot, which brought the largely Latvian loving crowd to life.
As is World Championship custom, Latvian fans came prepared to contribute their usual tournament mayhem. This included the usual banging on drums and plenty of chanting and clapping. Now Halifax natives are getting a view of Latvian pride on full display.
Co-captain Zach Parise notched his first of the tournament in the third, as did Patrick O’Sullivan, who closed out the scoring.
In celebration of the IIHF’s 100th anniversary, each of the sixteen teams is wearing retro jerseys from a period in their nation’s hockey history. The Americans are wearing their 1960 jersey which honors the gold medal team from Squaw Valley.
In the waning minutes, Latvia peppered Thomas with shots but could not get the puck past him as he registered the shutout.
"I have not been involved in too many international tournaments," said head coach John Tortorella. "But the two games I have been involved in, Latvia has been a tough opponent. And tonight was not exception.
The Americans move on next to face Slovenia on Sunday while the Latvians meet Canada.