Canada is travelling to Ornskoldsvik to play the host Swedes in the semi-finals on Saturday after defeating Latvia 3-1. It was a very close game that provided the Canadians with one important lesson: “Don’t underestimate any teams,” said Brayden Tracey. “I think if we play hard and play the way we do and how we can, we will be successful.”
Latvia had big ambitions to try and throw Canada off their game, and for a time, they did. Goaltender Arturs Silovs was the backbone of the Latvians ability to stymie the Canadian offence for over half of the period.
“Hopefully he [Silovs] gets some big bonuses for this tournament,” smirked head coach Olegs Sorokins. “Arturs has been playing and progressing a lot this year. He’s a really hard working guy. He never wants to be second - on dry land or on the ice.”
Silovs has been a key to Latvia’s game, but as their coach put it, “Today was a team effort it was not just Arturs.” Anyone watching from the stands or at home would certainly agree.
With 14 minutes gone, Canada finally found room to create as Tracey bolted down the ice with defender Braden Schneider joining the rush. It would Schneider to finally break the deadlock.
“I saw Schneider get the puck from front of the net, he had wheels coming through the zone,” Tracey described. “I thought if I took the puck to the middle of the ice that the D would come to me, which is what happened, and the rest was all him.”
The Canadians got lucky when a Latvian defender went to clear the puck from in front of Silovs, but accidentally ended up putting the puck five hole into his own net. The goal was credited to Peyton Krebs.
Latvia took some good shifts in the offensive zone, with their best chance coming off a puck that trickled inches wide from the post. Canada did dictate more of the play, widening their shot lead slightly from three in the first period to seven after the second.
A great scoring chance from Rudolfs Polcs was blocked by the pad of Taylor Gauthier as the Canadian goaltender had to be alert after the Latvians came in waves to start the third.
Thomas Harley rung the puck off the iron on a Canadian power play at the other end, but soon they found themselves in penalty trouble, giving up a 5-on-3. Latvia cycled the puck well, and just before the first penalty expired, Harijs Brants wired the puck behind Gauthier.
The Latvians continued to put pucks on net, and with just under a minute left in regulation, Silovs was pulled for the extra attacker. A bobble at the point lead to Canada potting the empty net goal as Krebs notched his second marker of the game.
“This was the best effort our team has had, the best game we’ve played. We got more experienced during every game in this tournament,” Sorokins said proudly. “My assistant coach said it was the first game in our careers when Latvia was so close to beating Canada, and that’s a big thing for us.”
Latvia not only found their way to the quarter-finals, but kept Canada fighting to get the win. As a newly promoted team, the future of the U18 program in Latvia looks bright.
“I hope we continue to get more experience playing with the big teams, because on the other side it was the first games for our team playing against the teams in this pool at all,” explained Sorokins. “We’d never had the experience of playing the teams like Sweden or Finland. Hopefully, these teams will want to play us in exhibition games to help us get ready for the tournaments.”
Canada will be facing a tough crowd in the semi-finals as they are taking on the hometown team. “A quick start is key, and if we get the puck deep and go hard at their D I think we’ll be good,” offered Tracey.