Latvia stays alive with big win
by Andrew Podnieks|20 MAY 2023
Latvia poured it on tonight ot keep their playoff hopes alive.
photo: Matt Zambonin / IIHF
Well, you can’t change the past, only work in the present and hope it sets up a better future. And tonight, Latvia did what it could to keep its playoff dreams alive, thumping Kazakhstan 7-0 and moving into a tie with Canada for third place in the Group B standings with 11 points. It was their fourth win in a row after starting with two losses.

Arturs Silovs, who has played in every game for Latvia so far, stopped 16 shots for his first career shutout at the senior level. Latvia fired 34 shots at the tandem of Andrey Shutov (first and second period) and Nikita Boyarkin (third period).

Rodrigo Abols had two goals and an assist while linemates Kaspars Daugavins (one goal, two assists) and Rudolfs Balcers (three assists) also contributed to the big win.

It was the most lop-sided victory for Latvia since May 6, 1997, when they beat Germany, 8-0.

The loss eliminated the Kazakhs, who have four points, from further play after the preliminary round, but Latvia still has some work to do and some hope to have. They have one game left to play, on Tuesday, against unbeaten Switzerland. The only team that can take Latvia out of the playoffs is Slovakia, but they have two games remaining against beatable opponents, Slovenia and Norway. 

If Latvia loses to the Swiss and the Slovaks win their last two, both teams with have 11 points. But Slovakia beat Latvia, 2-1, earlier in the tournament, so they’d qualify for the quarter-finals at Latvia’s expense. So, Latvia has to get points from their final game (a tough, but doable ask) or hope Slovakia loses a point from one of their final two matches (possible, but not likely).

"We knew how important this game was," admitted Latvian forward Toms Andersons. "We had to win to still have a chance to get to the quarter-finals, so that was our main goal. We couldn’t take them lightly. We needed to have a good start, and we did. As long as we’re winning, I’m happy. That's four in a row now. No matter how we play, we managed to win so that’s the most important thing. We wanted to make our fans happy. For the first time we weren’t nervous at the end, so it was a good game for us."

"Low energy from us," said a disconsolate and frustrated Tamirlan Gaitamirov of Kazakhstan. "I have nothing to say. This was our worst game of the tournament. We’ve gotta come out bigger and better. We’ve gotta get some rest tomorrow and then we’ve gotta make up for this game. Because like I said, this was our worst game. It’s unacceptable and we’ve just gotta be better."

Tonight’s game started haltingly, but a couple of power plays got the teams skating. But it was Silovs who really got the arena hopping with a play that was part defence and part offense. On a Latvia power play, Kazakh forward Arkadi Shestakov stole the puck from Janis Jaks and roared up ice. His breakaway was stopped by Silovs, and the puck went right to Martins Dzierkals, who tore up ice the other way. Inside the Kazakh blue line, he dropped the puck to Rihards Bukarts, and he snapped a shot post-and-in at 15:39 for a 1-0 lead. Silovs earned the second assist on the play.

Less than two minutes later, Latvia made it 2-0 when Kristaps Zile’s point shot was tipped in by Oskars Batna at 17:19, sending the Latvian crowd into ear-splitting paroxysms of joy.

Latvia made it 3-0 just 73 seconds into the second period on a strange play. Dzierkals drove hard to the net while being chased by Danil Butenko. Before he could get a shot off, Dzierkals was taken down by Butenko and slid into the goal. The net came off, and as it slid to the end boards the puck crossed the goal line. The referees used video review to rule it a good goal. Kazakh coach Galym Mambetaliev then challenged the play for goalie interference, and after another quick look the referees stuck by their first decision, allowed the goal, and gave Kazakhstan a bench minor for delay of game.

The Kazakhs looked diaorganized at best and had trouble moving the puck. Latvia was playing with confidence and added to their tally at 9:05 when a shot by Daugavins hit Abols in front. Abols turned and swept the puck in. Then, with 5.5 seconds remaining in the second, they added to their lead when a Bukarts shot was tipped in front by Miks Indrasis.

Daugavins added to the night's statistics with a goal at 9:50 of the third, taking a pass from Rudolfs Balcers and burying the shot from point-blank range to make it 6-0. Abols made it seven two minutes later on a power play.