Latvian U18 back

Baltic country succeeds at Mediterranean Sea

18.04.2014
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The Latvian U18 national team players stand together for the national anthem after winning a game in Nice. Photo: Patrick Giaume

NICE, France – Already before the last day undefeated Latvia cannot be overtaken anymore and is known as the winner of the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division I Group A. The Latvians earn promotion and will return to the top division in Switzerland next year.

At the tournament played in Nice in southern France, the Latvians had not only summer feelings outside of the rink but most importantly success on the ice. The maroon-and-white team started with a 5-2 victory against Kazakhstan followed by the team’s toughest game. Belarus tied the Latvian lead twice but when Roberts Locans regained the lead for Latvia with a penalty shot, the 3-2 score remained until the final buzzer.

The winning streak continued at the Palais des Sports where up to 1,000 fans watched the U18 games. Latvia defeated host France 5-1 and earned the chance to win the tournament already on Day 4 when co-favourite Norway surprisingly lost 5-2 to Kazakhstan early on that day.

A victory in regulation time against Italy was all Latvia needed but the winless Azzurri, who battled against relegation, kept the game tight despite a 37-11 shot advantage for the Latvians whose coach Edgars Abelis called it “the worst performance at the tournament”.

Until midway through the third period the score was tied at two but at 13:25 a power-play goal from Kirils Galoha broke the deadlock. A marker from Karlis Cukste followed 29 seconds later and eventually Latvia won 5-2 and earned the three points it needed.

Latvia provided the team with the biggest depth in the category with goals provided by many players, most by Locans with four. Matiss Kivlenieks provided strong goaltending with a 92.06 save percentage after playing in three out of four games, second only behind Belarus’ Alexander Osipkov.

The last game against second-seeded Norway will only be for the record for the Latvians while Norway along with Kazakhstan and Belarus battle for the other medals.

Host France will finish in fifth place while Italy will be relegated to the Division I Group B one year after having won the bronze medals in that group.

Click here for scores, stats and photos.

MARTIN MERK

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