Latvia advances to quarter-finals
by John Sanful|15 MAY 2018
Andris Dzerins scores only goal of the game that allows Latvia to advance.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images for Herning
Latvia broke the hearts of the Danish national team and its fans with a 1-0 win in tonight's final Preliminary Round game in Herning. Andris Dzerins scored the lone goal of the game that ended Denmark's dream of advancing to the quarter-finals of the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship on home ice. 


"We made the quarter-finals! It was a great team effort. We knew what we had to do. We had to play a solid game in all three zones. We went out there and we did it. We blocked shots. It was a hell of a team effort tonight."
Ronalds Kenins
Latvian forward
Denmark and Latvia have been equally matched rivals. Prior to tonight, these teams met five times with Denmark winning three. Last year at the World Championships Latvia defeated Denmark 3-0 but lost the deciding game for a quarter-final spot to Germany. Not this time.
Jyske Bank Boxen was jam-packed with exuberant Danish fans ready to provide as much noise and support as the home side needed. Game attendance was 10,800. But a loud contingent of Latvian fans could be heard throughout the arena.
Latvia got the better of the chances at the start of the game. Rihards Bukarts took a pass from Teodors Blugers and had a dead on shot that Frederik Andersen coolly turned away. Two-and-a-half minutes later, Latvia enjoyed another opportunity. Denmark was sloppy in its own end and Latvia took advantage. When Denmark could not clear the puck out, Andris Dzerins took the puck and fired a forehand shot that went between Andersen’s pads at 9:14. Miks Indrasis got the lone assist. Dzerins has been one of Latvia’s best players in Herning. 
Blugers almost made it 2-0 when he accepted a pass from Bukarts as he streaked towards the net. Andersen was able to get his right pad out in time to stop it. 
Denmark would be without Jesper Jensen Aabo, who was called for checking to the head at 16:56. Jensen Aabo also received a ten-minute misconduct when he lined up Rudolfs Balcers in the neutral zone. While shorthanded, Denmark blocked a few shots and got a big save to keep the lid on the game and stay one goal down. 
Latvia vs. Denmark
LAT DEN 15 MAY 2018
As they did last night against the Canadians, Latvia kept chances to the outside and clogged up the middle of the ice. They did a remarkable job of containing the Danish attack and staying out of the penalty box, which would have given Denmark a boost. The Danes came into the game with the second-best power play of the tournament.

"They played probably the most disciplined game of the whole tournament," said a dejected Stefan Lassen. "They didn't make any turnovers, no mistakes. We didn't get what we wanted."

Frederik Storm created a partial two-on-one with Nichlas Hardt but the shot went wide. While still in the zone after Storm’s rush, Denmark got a shot to the left of Elvis Merzlikins that sat between his pads in the crease. As it made its way towards the goal line, Ralfs Freibergs got his stick blade on the puck to block it off and out of danger.
This was the most pressure that Denmark would muster in some time in the game. Over the first two periods they were outshot 20-10. With two thirds of the game completed, it was clear that Denmark needed to step up its sense of urgency. The next goal scored would loom large. Denmark’s quarterfinals dreams depended on being able to solve Latvia’s defensive schemes. 
Denmark started the third by hustling to get at pucks and work deep into the zone and pepper Merzlikins with shots. Daniel Nielsen’s chip shot less than a minute in hit the crossbar. On another play, Storm broke towards the net for shot that was denied with a blocker save.  

"We have the best goaltender in the world," Kenins said of Merzlikins. "He's amazing. His attitude, his passion. It's unreal. You know if he's in the net and you make a mistake, he'll make the save."

Latvia had moments where they could have extended the lead but goaltending and home team bounces foiled their efforts. 
Balcers went in one-on-one against Philip Hansen, deking inside before being tied up by the Danish defenceman. Balcers managed to get off a one-handed push more than a shot towards the net Andersen saved. Dynamic youngster Kristians Rubins, who scored his first ever World Championship goal last night against Canada, nearly fooled Andersen. Two on none yielded a passing play between Ronalds Kenins and Abols hit the post and ricocheted towards the boards. 
As time was running down, Latvia settled back into its defensive mode. Denmark needed to take even more chances to level the score. With less than two minutes left in the game, Denmark went for the extra skater. Denmark moved the puck and kept the action in the Latvian zone, leaving their rivals with only icing as an option. With the final faceoff at :011, Denmark could not get the break they needed in regulation time.

"I wish I could say what we could have done more," said Lassen. "Of course, score a goal, but it's kind of tough right now. It's an empty feeling. We had the chance to win, but we didn't succeed. It's tough."

Latvia will face Sweden in the quarter-finals in Copenhagen. 
Latvia vs. Denmark