Latvia rallies to stay alive
by Derek O'Brien|22 MAY 2022
Rihards Bukarts celebrates a goal in Latvia’s come-from-behind win against Great Britain.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Trailing 3-1 midway through the game, Latvia scored three consecutive power-play goals and defeated Great Britain in the penultimate game for each team in the group stage of the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

In doing so, Latvia assures its place in next year’s top tournament and avoids an uncomfortable situation where they could have been playing to avoid relegation on Tuesday. At the same time, it keeps alive Latvia’s quarter-final hopes. Latvia now has eight points, trailing the USA and Czechia, who are tied for third and fourth in Group B with 10 each.

“We played a tough side today and we came out a little too passive but I’m very happy about the team, the effort, the belief we have in the room that we don’t let the game slip away,” said Latvian captain Rodrigo Abols. “Then we came back and won the game. I guess it’s exciting to watch but we don’t really want games like this. We have these games all through the tournament and it takes a lot of energy from you mentally and that translates into physically because the whole game is in a stress because it’s so tight, every little mistake can cost the game.”

As for Great Britain, any points they could have taken from this game would have improved their situation for tomorrow’s all-important last game against Austria. Nonetheless, the Brits are still alive but they need a regulation win to avoid relegation.

“We put ourselves in a great position at the start of the game but it’s difficult to know what to say right now,” said British defenceman Joshua Batch. “Those penalties really hurt us at the end there. Discipline is something we spoke about before this tournament because we know the quality of the power plays here is so high. To take the positives, it shows that we can play with these teams and we created some offence which is a good sign going into a must-win game tomorrow.”

Latvia outshot Great Britain 36-19 but, as is so often the case, netminder Ben Bowns was his team’s best player. In the Latvian goal, Elvis Merzlikins was back in net but he was lifted after allowing three goals on 13 shots. Entering the game in relief was Arturs Silovs, who for the second time shut the door, stopping all six shots he faced over the last 33:20 to earn his second consecutive win.

Great Britain vs Latvia - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
Trailing 3-1 midway through the game, Latvia scored three consecutive power-play goals and defeated Great Britain in the penultimate game for each team in the group stage.
GBR LAT 22 MAY 2022
Great Britain opened the scoring on an early power play. Cade Neilson’s centring pass from down low hit a Latvian stick, hit Merzlikins in the shoulder and fell in front of him. There, Matthew Meyers lid the puck over to Brett Perlini, who banged it in from close range.

They went up 2-0 at 12:16 following a lengthy delayed penalty, with Bowns on the bench for a sixth attacker. The play ended with Sam Jones’ pass going off Neilson’s skate and into the net, which necessitated a review. Ultimately, it was decided that although Neilson directed the puck with his skate, there was no distinct kicking motion, and therefore it was a good goal.

“In this tournament, our first periods have not been great,” said Martins Dzierkals, who had three assists in the game, all on the power play. “We said some words in the locker room, for sure. They weren’t nice words because we can’t play like that. These are games that we need to win if we want to have a chance at the quarter-finals.”

Latvia got on the board early in the second period. Nikolajs Jelisejevs’ initial shot from the top of the circle was kicked out by Bowns, but Oskars Batna was in just the right place to put in the rebound.

But just over two minutes later, GB’s two-goal lead was restored. Lewis Hook scored off the rush, carrying the puck down the right wing and beating Merzlikins to the far blocker side.

That was the end of Merzlikins’ night, with Silovs going the rest of the way.

Latvia drew back within a goal on a 4-on-3 advantage with 5:26 to play in the middle frame. Roberts Bukarts made a nice play to set up Janis Jaks for the one-timer from the left circle.

With 9:09 to play, GB’s Dallas Ehrhardt cleared the puck over the glass from his own zone, and that gave Latvia the opening it needed. Less than a minute later, the game was tied when Rihards Bukarts took a pass at the side of the net and, showing great patience, waited for Bowns to commit himself before backhanding it over the British keeper and into the roof of the net.

And just 26 seconds after that, a low hit by Jonathan Phillips on Jaks resulted in a minor penalty for clipping – as well as coincidental minors from the resulting skirmish – and another Latvian power play. Again, it took them little time to capitalize. With 6:49 to play, the Lativans took their first lead of the game when Dzierkals’ slap pass from the point was re-directed by Andris Dzerins in the slot and inside the far post.

“I’m very happy with the power play,” said Abols. “The second unit definitely came out to play today. We talked about it and I’m really happy that they showed up and essentially won the game for us.”

“The start wasn’t that good but we got our momentum in the second half of the game and we got the win,” said Batna. “The power play didn’t work out so well in the games before but finally we have a game where the power play worked out. We have to battle to the end, try to beat Sweden and see what’s going to happen.”

“For the most part, we played a good game, we really did,” said Hook. “I think we just got into penalty trouble in the third period, and we can’t do that against teams like this. We have to go into tomorrow full of confidence. We played well today and if we match that tomorrow, we should get the result.”

Great Britain vs Latvia - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship