KOSICE – Kaspars Saulietis had two goals and an assist to lead Latvia to a convincing 4-1 win over Austria at the Steel Arena. The result means Latvia stays in the Top Division for Finland/Sweden 2012 while Austria is demoted to Division I.
Latvia-Austria 4-1 (2-0, 1-0, 1-1) Game Sheet Photos
The Latvians were two for two on the power play, both goals coming on virtually identical set plays in which a player at the top of the left faceoff circle sets up for a one-timer.
"What turned it around for us was the mental toughness," said captain Herberts Vasiljevs. "When you go into a game thinking 'don't lose', then you're going to lose. We came in with the thought we have to win it. That was the difference. We weren't nervous. We went out and gave everything we had, and that's the result."
Austria scored only six goals all tournament (six games), the main reason the team now returns to Divison I.
"It was a very important game, and we knew it would be a hard game because they didn't want to be demoted either," said goalie Edgars Masalskis. "Even though it was 4-1, it was a very tight game. They never gave up. They kept coming."
Typical of Austria’s luck this year was the first period. Although the team came out with more energy and desperation than Latvia, it was the Latvians who led after 20 minutes by a 2-0 score thanks to fortuitous finish around the net of Fabian Weinhandl. Twice Latvia had speed off the rush, and twice they scored.
The first goal was unlucky for the Austrians. Gints Meija carried the puck down the right wing and took a routine shot that Weinhandl stopped, but the goalie kicked the rebound out the other way. Roberts Bukarts was right there to smack it in the open side at 5:01.
Eight and a half minutes later, Mikelis Redlihs got to a loose puck in a scrum around the net and pushed it in. Apart from that, though, Austria had its fair share of puck possession but showed little skill around the goal. A great scoring chance was fired wide. A wide open man had a pass go behind him. A rush ended in the corner instead of in front of the net. And so it went for the Austrians.
If Austria was unlucky in the first, Latvia saw to it that the second period was more decisive. The Latvians dominated the middle 20 minutes in every facet of the game, building their lead to 3-0 thanks to a nice power-play goal. Saulietis stepped into a slap shot from the top of the left faceoff circle that blew by Weinhandl.
At the other end, the few chances the Austrians had were handled perfectly by Edgars Masalskis in the Latvian goal.
Weinhandl stopped Martins Cipulis on a penalty shot in the third period, and soon after Saulietis got his second of the night, teeing up a one-timer on the power play.
Thomas Raffl got the Austrian goal in the final minute on a power play to spoil Masalskis's shutout.
"I don't think we were the best team today, but we played smart," said Vasiljevs. "We scored the goals that we needed."