Canada scored two quick goals midway through the second that proved to be Latvia’s undoing, just as it was two days ago when Switzerland scored two quick goals twice in its 4-2 win.
Tonight’s win keeps Canada perfect against Latvia in U18 play with an all-time record now of 6-0. It was a game of little flow and many, many whistles. Shots favoured Canada 52-27 in a game with stellar goaltending at both ends of the ice.
"We really had to go nose to the grindstone tonight," said Canadian defenceman Brandt Clarke. "They were a hard-working team, and they had an extra day's rest. They were coming at us all night, but we weathered the storm. We would have liked to capitalize on more chances, but the win is still big for us. We need to win these tight games. It'll help us when we get to the medal round, having to battle right til the end."
"I can't be more proud for how our guys played, and how they sacrificed themselves," said Latvian coach Olegs Sorokins. "At the same time, they were doing a lot of good things and sticking to the plan. We had a lot of good chances against one of the top teams in the world."
Canada came out with a solid effort from the opening faceoff and took the play to Latvia, but Mezsargs was solid in goal and the team played a tight defensive game that prevented too many odd-man rushes and quality scoring chances.
The Latvians passed their first test early, killing off a two-man Canada power play for 69 seconds to perfection. In fact, the best scoring chance of the period was had by Anri Ravinskis midway through on the team’s first shot. He controlled a loose puck at the Canada blue line and went in all alone, but his high shot went off the shoulder of goalie Benjamin Gaudreau.
The only other Grade A chance of the period came in the final minute with Canada on the power play. Connor Bedard moved in patiently to the slot and fired a shot that beat Mezsargs, but it went off the post and landed back under the fallen goalie.
Although Canada held a significant 17-4 advantage in shots, teams went to the dressing room in a scoreless tie.
The Canadians remained patient, though, and as Latvia resorted to icing the puck when in trouble, it seemed to be just a matter of time before the favourites scored. That finally happened at 7:58 on the power play when Logan Stankoven’s shot from the top of the circle squeezed by Mezsargs.
Just 123 seconds later Mason McTavish made it 2-0 when Bedard made a clever steal of the puck behind the Latvian goal and got the puck in front. Mason McTavish got to the rebound and made no mistake. McTavish was acting captain tonight, replacing Shane Wright who was held out of the game with a slight lower body injury.
It looked like Canada had taken control of the game by this point, but before the period ended they gave Latvia some hope. Silvers Lazarenoks got to a puck rolling behind the Canadian goal and passed it in front where Ravinskis made a quick shot to beat Gaudreau with only 41.2 seconds left in the period.
Sure enough, Latvia came out to start the third with their best play of the game. They drew a penalty, and although didn't score they kept the pressure on. It was only the steady and fine play from Gaudreau that kept it a 2-1 game. But after the first TV timeout of the period, Canada recovered and went ahead 3-1 soon after.
McTavish brought the puck out of his own end and made a nice saucer pass to Dylan Guenther, and he made no mistake with the shot over a sprawling Mezsargs, giving Canada some much needed breathing room.
But that breathing room was soon gone. McTavish took a penalty, and on the ensuing power play Sandis Vilmanis scored a sensational goal. Taking the puck in his own end, he flew down the right wing and as he cut in on goal he roofed a backhand to the short side as Gaudreau went down.
McTavish made amends, getting the final goal with 42.8 seconds left on a power play. The man advantage came on a penalty for too many men at a time Latvia was looking to pull Mezsargs for the extra attacker.
"Even before Canada played Sweden we discussed having a video meeting, but after we saw Canada scored so many goals we didn't want to look at the game," Sorokins said. "In my experience as a coach and hockey player, we've had some really great games against Canada. It's just one game, and the game was today. I told the guys this is the most important game of your life, so show everything you have. They sure did."
Canada now has a day off before playing Switzerland on Friday while the Latvians are back at it tomorrow night against Belarus.