Janis Jaks' goal on a crazy play with 13:01 left in regulation time broke a 1-1 tie in Latvia's favour. They added two more goals to win 4-1 and claim fifth place in Group B, while Norway finishes sixth. The two teams had entered the game with six points each.
The sequence started when a shot from the point hit Norwegian defenceman Alexander Bonsaksen up high, knocking him down. The puck when back to the point, from where Jaks blasted a shot that hit Bonsaksen again – this time in the arm – and then went up and over the outstretched glove of Norwegian goaltender Henrik Haukeland.
The third-period outburst ruined a great night game by Haukeland, who stopped 35 of 38 shots all told. At the other end of the ice, Latvia's Elvis Merzlikins stopped 19 of 20. Miks Indrasis scored Latvia's first goal and assisted on two more in the third, including Jaks' winner, and had a couple other great offensive chances as well.
Both teams knew they were playing their last game of the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship but would also be coming back to Switzerland next year, as neither had a chance to advance to the quarter-finals or be relegated. The Latvians were coming off a tough loss to Sweden yesterday which ended their chances of advancement. Norway’s hopes were dashed by losing their first four games, but had since won two in a row.
“Going in, we knew it was going to be a tough tournament. We had to beat Austria and Italy. Those were two key games for us, and we managed that,” said Norwegian forward Andreas Martinsen. “We obviously wanted to try to win today and put Latvia behind us, but I think they were just a better team than us. We came out and had a strong first, and our goalie played well. But we just came up short. They're a good team.”
“It felt good to finish off with a win,” said Latvian forward Teddy Blugers. “But I think ultimately, we kind of fell short of our goal. We had some good opportunities to win a couple more games. We made a couple of costly mistakes, but overall, I thought we had some bright spots in the tournament. We played pretty well, but we just didn't get the job done.”
Latvia peppered Haukeland with 17 shots in the opening period, but couldn’t beat the Norwegian goaltender, who made a couple of nice saves on quick shots by Gints Meija and Indrasis.
The only penalty of the first period went to Latvia’s Oskars Batna for a late hit at 13:49, and it produced the period’s only goal. On the power play, Jonas Holos set up Tobias Lindstrom, who ripped a shot over Merzlikins’ glove for his team-leading fourth goal and sixth point of the tournament to make it 1-0 Norway.
Early in the second period, the Latvians equalled that feat by scoring on their first power play as well to even the score. At 22:43, with just two seconds left in the penalty, Indrasis took a pass through traffic from Roberts Balcers and beat Haukeland high to the stick side. It was Balcer’s seventh assist and eighth point of the tournament, which both led Latvia.
The Norwegians then got the next two power plays but were unable to score – their closest call came when Sondre Olden rang a one-timer off the crossbar with nine seconds left in their third advantage of the game.
That was not a shot on goal, though. In fact, Norway only had two shots on target in the middle period, despite the two power plays. Latvia continued firing at Haukeland at every turn – 14 more times that period, including yet another chance for Indrasis on a late power play but a great left-pad save Haukeland – but the score remained tied after 40 minutes.
“I felt like we were pushing,” said Blugers. “In the first period, we didn't start off too well. The second and third periods, we were pushing, we had chances. We were outshooting them by a lot. So one was bound to go in. That's just kind of how it goes sometimes.”
And once one did, two more followed. Just 55 seconds after Jaks' winning goal, Rihards Marenis’ wrist shot on a partial breakaway from the right wing made it 3-1, and put Latvia in firm control of the game. If there was any doubt about the outcome, it was erased with 5:47 to go, when Ronalds Kenins found a loose puck at the side of the net and put it in.
Although their team had no chance to advance, the Latvian fans once again created a fantastic atmosphere in Bratislava and cheered the final seconds away, happy that their team was finishing on a high note. They'll be back next year. And then ...
“Next year is Switzerland, and then Latvia,” said Kenins, referring to the 2021 World Championship, which will be co-hosted by Riga and Minsk, Belarus. “You'll see how the crowd is. I think we have one of the best, if not the best, in the world. It's going to be amazing. I'm really excited. But I have to stay focused and keep growing, and I'm looking forward to next year in Switzerland.”