Nico snatches late winner
by Andy Potts|12 MAY 2019
Swiss forward Nico Hischier tries to score on Latvian goaltender Elvis Merzlikins.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Switzerland picked up its second victory of the championship thanks to a late goal from Nico Hischier against Latvia. The 20-year-old New Jersey forward cemented his reputation as something of a clutch player when he potted the game-winner on 56:21 of a frenetic game between two teams that had made winning starts to their campaigns. An empty-net goal secured a 3-1 verdict for the Swiss in a game that Gaetan Haas felt illustrated the progress his country has made in recent yeas.

"We know it's every time a battle against those guys," he said. "Every time it's a tight game. But we're growing up. In the last couple of years, sometimes we lost games like that. And now we win today. That's a good sign."

Many felt that this match-up could determine which nation clinched a quarter-final berth and both teams poured everything into the game. The action got underway amid a passionate atmosphere in Bratislava with fans of both teams well represented in another good crowd at the Ondrej Nepela Arena. That fervour translated itself to the players, who played the opening period at a fantastic tempo but rarely found the kind of cool head that might have opened up the game.

There were a couple of opportunities early on, with Switzerland’s Lino Martschini squirting an effort narrowly wide at one end before Rudolfs Balcers got a decent look for Latvia only to shoot into the side netting. One moment of real quality stood out: on the Swiss power play, Gaetan Haas showed great stick handling in front of Elvis Merzlikins’ net but the Latvian – who plays his club hockey in Switzerland with Lugano – came up with the block and the frame ended goalless.

"I thought they were a little better in the first," said Swiss defenceman Roman Josi. "They put a lot of pressure on us and created some chances but after that the second period was pretty good. We had a lot of power play chances that we couldn't capitalize on but we just stayed with it and kept pushing. I thought we deserved to win."

As the second period progressed, Switzerland began to put greater pressure on Merzlikins and his team and that saw Gregory Hofmann give his team a deserved lead in the 34th minute. This goal was all about Philipp Kurashev, prolific at the World Juniors earlier this year and now catching the eye in adult company. The 19-year-old recently signed a 3-year entry level contract with the Blackhawks and his audacious, slaloming charge at the Latvian defence gave a clue as to what the NHL organisation sees in him. On this occasion his shot was deflected away from the target but Hofmann was waiting at the far post to convert from a tight angle.

However, the lead lasted less than 30 seconds. The Swiss took a penalty and Latvia wasted little time in taking advantage. Miks Indrasis exchanged passes with Balcers, who was lurking on the goal line, before firing home from the left-hand dot to tie the game.
Latvia vs. Switzerland - 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
Switzerland picked up its second victory of the championship thanks to a late goal from Nico Hischier against Latvia.
LAT SUI 12 MAY 2019
The action remained breathless, the fans raucous, but the next major incident saw Latvia fall deep into penalty trouble. Indrasis had already collected a double minor for high sticks when Lauris Darzins shot the puck over the glass and joined his team-mate in the box. Latvia faced two full minutes of 3-on-5 play and dug in to withstand the Swiss bombardment. Merzlikins once again frustrated Haas up close as the Latvians survived to the intermission, then he began the third period with a big stop to deny Kevin Fiala before Darzins returned to the game.

Latvia managed to see off that crisis and the action continued in the same frenetic vein. Switzerland continued to have more shots, but the best chance of the third period came on the Latvian power play when an Oskars Cibulskis point shot was deflected by Balcers and dropped into the path of Teodors Bulgers. With the goal at his mercy, the Latvian youngster was denied by the stick of Roman Josi as the defenceman made a desperate block.

After saving his team at one end, Josi then had a big contribution to Switzerland’s winner. He brought the puck down the left channel and fired it to the net. A mighty scramble ensued, with Vincent Praplan tangling with Merzlikins before Hischier stuffed it home. Swiss jubilation was deferred as the Latvian bench challenged the call, but the review upheld the on-ice call. Latvia’s problems were intensified by the loss of a time-out it badly needed as a tight game ticked into the final minutes.

"I always thought it was in," Josi said of the video review. "I only saw it live but I didn't think there was any goalie interference. They looked at it pretty quickly so I was pretty confident there."

Latvia was disappointed as it lost out to one of its biggest rivals in this group - but defenceman Arturs Kulda still spotted some positives from the game.

"I didn't think we played badly," he said. "We had our chances but we couldn't take them, and then they scored on us. I think if we'd been better on our power play the result might have been different.

"Overall, I think we're going in the right direction. We were very active, we played on the front foot and that's the way we have to play. It's a step forward in terms of the quality of our game."

Simon Moser’s empty net goal secured the win for Switzerland, which moves level with Russia and the Czech Republic on six points from two games.
Latvia vs. Switzerland - 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship