CALGARY – Austin Watson scored three goals in the first period and seven points in total to lead the United States to an easy but crucial 12-2 win over Latvia. The win ensures the U.S. will not be relegated to Division I for 2013 and will be in Ufa next Christmas.
Latvia’s loss places a huge importance on tomorrow’s game with Denmark. The winner of that game joins the U.S. in Ufa with the rest of the top division teams while the loser gets relegated.
"The biggest thing we wanted to prove is that we believe we shouldn’t be in the relegation round," Watson said. "We wanted to come out and have a strong game. We showed we’re capable of playing with the guys in the medal round. It was about playing for the country, playing for the crest on our jersey, not worrying about what happened in the past. Just worrying about the present and the moment we’re in."
The Americans finish their tournament tomorrow with a game against Switzerland for first place in the relegation-round standings at stake.
"We’re not where we want to be tonight, but we need to keep heads up," added Nick Bjugstad. "We've had a rough outing, but we’re playing for the sweater and it was great to have a good performance [against Latvia]. It was kind of good to show up this game from an offensive standpoint."
In addition to Watson’s seven points, Nick Bjugstad had three goals and five points and Brandon Saad added four assists. The Americans doubled their opponents in shots, 58-29.
Watson’s three goals in the first were all set up by different teammates. On the opening tally, at 5:40, he redirected a Jarred Tinordi point shot. On the second, it was a nice feed from Jon Merrill to the side, and on the third it was Kyle Rau who found Watson in the slot.
Latvian starting goalie Kristers Gudlevskis was replaced early in the second after the fifth American goal, but his replacement, Rihards Cimermanis fared worse, allowing six more goals in 19:04 of the second. As a result, Gudlevskis was back in for the third period, and he allowed just one goal.
The first Latvian goal came at 2:03 of the second on a shot by Zemgus Girgensons that beat Jack Campbell under the blocking arm. Their second, near the end of the game, came when Teodors Blugers passed the puck in front of the U.S. net only to have defenceman Austin Czarnik redirect it past his own goalie.
The huge win allowed the Americans to pad their stats, as it were. After scoring only five goals in their last three games, they piled on the goals without even trying too hard. That they were sent to the relegation round was an unlikely scenario, but the team bit the bullet and took it to the Latvians.
"We still have to beat Denmark, no matter what," Blugers said. "That’s the big game. We need to refocus. We definitely need to play better on defence, man-to-man coverage, getting back. We had too many guys caught up in the rush and gave up too many odd-man rushes."