The win is the first for Latvia after 11 losses and a tie in all-time history at the World Championship between the two teams. Indeed, it was the first win for Latvia over Canada at any event – Olympics (0-0-2), Worlds (0-1-11), World Juniors (0-0-2), and U18 (0-0-5), a total of 0-1-20 previously.
"We knew that Canada didn’t play a lot together so we wanted to take advantage," said Miks Indrasis, one of the scorers. "I think we played well, scored a couple of goals, and it was enough to win the game."
"We started off a little slow but as the game went on I thought we generated a lot more scoring chances and had more guys going to the net," said Brandon Pirri. "The zone is so big you can't really be shooting from the outside – it takes a couple of extra seconds for the puck to get there. We're figuring it out. It was close, and there were some good things we can take away but we know how we can play and how we will play next game."
The last time these teams played in Riga in 2006 was markedly different. Canada won that game, 11-0, and scored an IIHF record nine goals on the power play. Today Latvia was much tighter in their half of the ice, and a young Canadian team had trouble getting quality chances on Kivlenieks. The Latvian defence blocked shots, got sticks in lanes, and made it all but impossible for Canada to get grade A chances.
Canada has not won an opening game at the World Championship now since 2017 (three losses).
The hero was Matiss Kivlenieks, who stopped all 38 shots for the winners. It also marked the first time in 34 games that Canada has been shut out in WM play.
"He was unbelievable," Ralfs Freibergs said of Kivlenieks. "For Latvia, 90 percent of winning a game is always the goalie. He didn't give anything to Canada, nothing. Thanks to him! He was a big part of the win tonight."
Latvia is right back at it tomorrow, playing Kazakhstan in the late game. Canada, meanwhile, has a day off to practise and regroup before playing the United States on Sunday night.
The only goal came with Gabriel Vilardi sitting in the box for high-sticking. Ronalds Kenins drove down the right side and feathered a perfect pass to Miks Indrasis in front. His shot beat Kuemper between the pads with only 1.5 seconds remaining, sending the hosts to the dressing room with an abundance of confidence.
"It was huge to be the first one to score a goal," admitted Friebergs. "It was a massive advantage for us. Miks was just the shooter. Ronalds Kenins did all the work, got in with his speed and a heads-up play. Hats off to Ronnie! It was big for us because then we knew we could win the game."
"Scoring the first goal was so important," Latvia's coach Bob Hartley agreed, "because we didn't want to start chasing the game. [Canada] have a bunch of kids, lots of young, promising, talented hockey players. And we knew that if they would get the lead, then the game might get faster."
Canada continued to dominate in the second in terms of puck possession and territorial play, but the Latvians were the only team to bulge the twine. This time the play came off a harmless shot along the boards by Oskars Batna. But before it reached the goal Kristians Rubins deflected the puck just enough to go over the outstretched blocker of Kuemper.
Despite continued pressure Canada misfired on several occasions and were stymied by solid goaltending from Kivlenieks.
"It was frustrating," admitted Canadian forward Connor Brown. "We had a lot of chances to score but didn’t get enough bodies to the net. We’ve been here for a couple of days and are still getting together, lines are still sorting each other out. It will be okay. Let’s put it behind us, learn from it, and get better. There’s a lot of learning curves. In the third period, we played much better and started to understand how to create offence a little more."