Switzerland – Latvia 2 - 4 (1-2, 1-2, 0-0)
ZNOJMO – The Latvians got a rough welcome to the 2012 U18 tournament at the hands of a 6-1 loss to Russia, but came back the next day with a strong performance to win 4-2 against Switzerland.
Goaltender Elvis Merzlikins held the fort with a spectarular 44-save effort while his teammates managed to convert four goals out of half as many shots on net.
Latvia caught a break on their third goal eight minutes into the second period, when defenceman Edmunds Augstkalns fired a blast that went wide to the right of Swiss goaltender Melvin Nyffeler, only to have the puck bounce from the boards and end up on the left side of the net and onto the stick of Edgars Kulda, who hit a wide open net for the 3-1 lead and the eventual game winner.
Switzerland answered with a score of its own thanks to a power play goal from Lukas Balmelli at 14:31, but with only 42 seconds left in the period, Georgs Golovkovs made a good individual effort to get past both Swiss defender and goalie and score to go up 4-2.
Merzlikins shut the door on the Swiss the rest of the way, giving Latvia a 1-1 record keep their playoff hopes alive.
The game was marked by momentum shifst early on. Latvia struck first in on a goal by Nikita Jevpalovs two minutes into the game. At 6:22 the Swiss replied back with a nice goal from Julian Schmutz, who beat Ilja Makarovs to the puck along the boards, outskated the Latvian defenceman and scored with a forehand shot past Merzlikins.
“We prepared for a lot of shots because we knew how the Swiss like to play," said Merzlikins, who plays for the Kloten Flyers in the Swiss league. “I know a bit about Swiss tactics from playing in Switzerland, which worked against me on their first goal because I was expecting the player to pass when he surprised me and shot instead. But after that I felt I was able to play with confidence.”
On the other end, Schmutz did not do as well with the puck in his own zone, coughing it up to forward Martins Lavrovs as he was taking it out of the zone, giving Lavrovs a clear line to the goaltender. The Latvian forward did not miss on his breakaway and put his team ahead for good.
Latvia now has a day off before taking on Sweden on Sunday, while Switzerland will also face the Swedes a day earlier on Saturday evening.
And would Merzlikins have anything to say to his Kloten teammates following Latvia’s win over the Swiss?
“I won’t talk about the game,” he said with a smile
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