Latvia wins in OT, goes to quarter-finals
by Derek O'Brien|23 MAY 2023

Uvis Janis Balinskis (#26) and Rudolfs Balcers (#21) celebrate Latvia's overtime-winning goal against Switzerland. 

photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Matt Zambonin

Rudolfs Balcers one-timed a pass from Uvis Janis Balinskis to score a power-play goal in overtime, giving Latvia a 4-3 victory over Switzerland. However, that goal was merely an epilogue to what was already a big reason to celebrate in Riga. Upon the expiry of regulation time, the one point gained was enough to see co-host Latvia through to the quarter-finals. The extra point gained in overtime gives them a third-place finish in Group B and a quarter-final date with Sweden.

“Unbelievable!” said Latvian forward Ralfs Freibergs, who had two points in the game. “But they didn’t give us anything. It wasn’t for free. It was good hockey the whole way, but when it was closer near the end we wanted that goal and that one point. When it was 3-2, we didn’t panic. We played great. Right moment, right time, we scored. We needed it for the fans. In the country, times are tough, the economy. They needed something positive.”

“It’s just one game,” Swiss defender Tobias Geisser reasoned. “We battled hard for 65 minutes and it didn’t go our way, but we’re still confident.”

Even with the loss, Switzerland tops Group B with 19 points and will face Germany in the quarter-finals. Having already secured first place, the Swiss rested some of their overworked star players and gave Joren von Pottelberghe his first World Championship start in goal. The Latvians countered with their workhorse, Arturs Silovs.

With the vast majority of the crowd of 9178 behind them, the Latvians were full of energy at the start and registered the game’s first five shots on goal. However, Switzerland came back with a push in the last few minutes of the first period and ended up with a 9-8 advantage in shots.

Latvia struck first early in the second period when Friebergs sent a floater from the point that beat van Pottelberghe, who had to contend with a couple of players in front of him. Swiss coach Patrick Fischer challenged the play for goaltender interference, but it was ruled that the Swiss defender pushed Rihards Bukarts into the crease and the goal stood.

As a result of the failed challenge, Latvia went to the power play and it became a 5-on-3 for 39 seconds when a second delay-of-game penalty was called on Switzerland – this one for shooting the puck out of play. However, Latvia was unable to increase its lead.

Switzerland answered off a faceoff six minutes into the period. Enzo Corvi won the draw and Kevin Fiala shot it through a crowd and Silovs didn’t react until it was over his shoulder.

But it took just 32 seconds for Latvia to regain the lead. Rodrigo Abols carried the puck into the Swiss zone and was forced wide by a defender. Abols shot from near the goal line along the ice and the puck found its way through van Pottelberghe’s pads.

“It is a tough game for us,” said Geisser. “They were really pumped up and it was an important game for them, but we still had to do our job. We handled it well for a long time, came back, but made too many mistakes and they capitalized on them.”

Just shy of the game’s midpoint, acting Swiss captain Gaetan Haas got a breakaway but Silovs made a big pad save to keep his team ahead.

Latvia had two more power-play chances in the second period to extend the lead but came up emtpy, going 0-for-4 in the period.

Then Switzerland got its first two power plays of the game. Latvia killed them both off but the Swiss were pressing and five seconds after the second one expired – with 12:57 left in regulation time – the Swiss tied it back up when Damien Riat’s one-timer hit Marco Miranda’s skate and trickled in.

A minute later, Dans Locmelis nearly restored Latvia’s lead on a rush but hit the crossbar.

The Swiss then went back to the attack and Andres Ambuhl one-timed a pass from Fiala over Silovs’ shoulder to give them their first lead of the game with 6:14 and put Latvia in a position where they needed to score.

And score they did, when Daugavins fired home a pass from Abols on a 2-on-1 with 5:04 remaining.

With that, the Latvians fought furiously for the rest of regulation time to preserve the point with their fans behind them all the way, standing and chanting “LAT-VI-JA!” almost continuously over the last five minutes. When the clock ran to zero at the end of the third period, the horn was inaudible, drowned out by the explosive cheer from the fans.

On his feeling when time expired, Silovs said: “For me, it was sort of relief, but still you want to win the game, right? Because if you lose in OT it’s not going to be the best feeling. You always want to win.”

And when they finally did win: “Yeah, then it was pure joy. It was lots of fun.”