Canada takes care of hosts
by Andrew Podnieks|12 MAY 2023
Canada jumped into an early lead and never let up.
photo: Matt Zambonin / IIHF
Canada scored two goals in the first five minutes, chased starter Ivars Punnenovs, and skated to a well-deserved 6-0 win over Latvia tonight in Group B action in Riga. The result erased bad memories for Canada from two years ago, when the teams last met in Riga and the hosts stunned Canada with a 2-0 win, their first-ever victory over the favourites.

Defender Mackenzie Weegar was the star of the game, scoring once and adding two assists and looking like a stud on the Canadian blue line. Goalie Samuel Montembeault, making his Team Canada debut, stopped 23 shots and was very solid on several tough chances. 

The game was closer than the score might indicate, but time and again Latvia created a good chance only to misfire or lack the finishing touch around the goal.

"I thought it was a pretty good game for us," said Joe Veleno, one of the goalscorers. "Defensively, we’ve still got some stuff to clean up. I think we gave up some Grade-A chances that they could have scored on, but for the most part, I think we did a pretty good job. We’re still getting familiar with the systems, still trying to build some chemistry. Our power play and PK did well today. We just have to clean up a few things."
"They were pretty loud," Latvian defender Karlis Cukste said of the sold-out crowd of 9,260 at the Arena Riga. "They always have been, and I think they always will be, and all of us appreciated it greatly. We don’t take it for granted. We have the best fans in the world, and that’s just the way it is."

Latvia is right back at it tomorrow night against Slovakia while Canada has a day off before facing Slovenia on Sunday.

The Canadians opened the scoring after just 52 seconds off the rush. Peyton Krebs brough the puck in over the line, and Lawson Crouse put the finishing touches on the play with a quick shot between Ivars Punnenovs’s pads. Just four minutes later, Canada doubled its lead. This time a Weegar point shot was deflected down and in by Scott Laughton at 4:56.

That was enough for Latvian coach Harijs Vitolins, who pulled his goalie in favour of Arturs Silovs. Punnenovs had earned a shutout in his last game, a 12-shot blank sheet against Italy in 2021, but tonight things were much different.

Canada doubled its lead in a dominant middle period, making it 3-0 at 8:17 off a bullet wrist shot from Weeger that went over Silovs’s blocker arm. Later in the period, Samuel Blais made it 4-0 off a quick-thinking play. When an odd-man rush didn’t pan out, the puck rolled into the corner. Blais got there first and fired a quick shot to the front of the net where the puck bounced off the back of Silovs's blocker and in.

Rodrigo Abols had two good chances for Latvia in the period but couldn’t cash in on either. Early in the frame he had a close-in chance, but Montembeault made his best save of the night, kicking out the right pad on what looked like a sure goal. A bit later, Abols made a nice tip in front, but the puck went past the post.

In the third, Latvia again had a great chance to score, but this time a pass from Rihards Bukarts to Andris Dzerins ended up going off Dzerins's stick and over the net. Latvia's lack of scoring touch cost them again later as Canada put the game farther out of reach. Weegar set up Veleno with a gorgeous back-door pass for a tap-in to make it 5-0 at 13:58.

Just 102 seconds later, Jack McBain got a dirty one from the top of the crease to make it six.

"We like the way we started the game," Crouse added. "We did a good job of capitalizing on our chances, and our goalie stood on his head for a few minutes there. It’s a long journey, and this was just one step. We’ve gotta learn from what we did wrong this game and get better for the next one."
Latvia vs Canada - 2023 IIHF WM