Brinums (Miracle) in Riga!
by Andrew Podnieks|25 MAY 2023
Latvia played its best game ever tonight and will now play two more games in Tampere, including one for a medal.
photo: Matt Zambonin / IIHF
Team Latvia is going to Finland to play for a medal!

Miks Indrasis broke a 1-1 tie with a perfect shot at 5:55 of the third period to send Latvia to a stunning 3-1 upset of Sweden in the quarter-finals at Arena Riga.

He took a drop pass from Rihards Bukarts on a 2-on-2 rush, feathered the puck between the legs of forward Par Lindholm, and wired a shot over the shoulder of Lars Johansson.

Janis Jaks added an insurance goal on a power play later when his point shot squeezed through Johansson and trickled over the line at 13:46.

The only other time Latvia had defeated Sweden in 17 previous meetings was in the preliminary round in 2009. Latvia now travels to Tampere for the final weekend and will play for a medal for the first time in its history. But first, the semi-finals on Saturday against Canada to determine if they will play on Sunday for a bronze or for a gold medal.

"It was unbelievable," said Karlis Cukste. "In front of these fans with this group of guys, it’s special. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in hockey or in life. There were a couple of moments throughout the game where they were pressuring us but we fought back. This group of guys, we always fight. We never know what’s going to happen but we can control our effort, and we always give 100 per cent."

"It was fun to be here but it’s obviously a tough loss today," said Sweden's Timothy Liljegren. "We wanted to go longer in the tournament. We knew it was going to be a tough game and I thought we played well, we just couldn’t score, just couldn’t break them down. They wouldn’t go away. They capitalized on their chances and we didn’t. It was good atmosphere here, the fans were great. Hopefully, they go to Finland and keep doing what they were doing today."

The win comes on a day when Germany also upset Switzerland in Riga to advance to the semis as well, making for one of the most surprising weekends in World Championship memory.

After the handshakes, players circled the ice to salute the adoring crowd, had team photos taken at centre ice, and mingled in celebration before leaving the ice. This was a win for the ages, a win many years in the making, a win for the fans, the country, the players, and coaching staff.

"You saw what happened here after the game," enthused captain Kaspars Daugavins. "I think for years we’ve believed that we could do it, but we always came up a little bit short. But we believed, we kept going, and the character we have on this team paid off. Now we’re taking it step by step, and we’ll see what happens."

Rihards Bukarts had three assists for Latvia, but the hero of the night was goalie Arturs Silovs. Sweden outshot Latvia, 41-15, but Silovs was other-worldly, moving with ease from post to post and smothering any shot without conceding a rebound. The Swedes were the better team, but Silovs was the difference and Latvia capitalized on their few chances.

The first period was a contrast in results. The Swedes were the dominant team, the better team, the more skilled team, but time and again they fired wide on their good chances or their shots were blocked. Silovs made the save of the period off a sure goal from Oscar Lindberg, who took a sweet fake-shot pass from Henrik Tommernes at the point and got his shot off quickly. It was headed for the near corner when Silovs stuck out his left pad to make a brilliant save.

At the other end, Latvia had trouble penetrating the Sweden end or maintaining possession for a sustained period, yet they got the only goal of the opening period off a clever play by Bukarts. Behind the net with no clear options, he dumped the puck in front where a cluster of players were fighting for position. A nice bounce saw Dans Locmelis pounce, snapping a shot into the high corner at 12:56 to send the home crowd into paroxysms of ecstasy. It was his first goal of the tournament and first of his World Championship career.

But Latvia played scared in the second and Sweden kept on pressing. It seemed just a matter of time before Tre Kronor tied the game, but Silovs was playing the game of his life. He stoned Carl Grundstrom with a right-pad save and foiled Marcus Sorensen as well. A series of three quick penalties midway through, however, created a lengthy 4-on-4, giving the speedy Swedes more space. Timothy Liljegren wound up with the puck in the slot, and he took dead aim for the top corner over the goalie’s glove. He didn’t miss, and at 9:41 it was 1-1.

The game might have changed for good late in the period when Martins Dzierkals was called for five and a game for a butt end during a scrum. That put Latvia on its heels for nearly four minutes to close out the period, but the Latvian penalty killers were letter perfect.

Shots favoured Sweden, 13-1, in the middle period, and the hosts were lucky to come out of it tied.

Latvia killed off the remaining 1:13 of the major to start the third and then played a risky game of spending too much time in their end, but they blocked shots without fear, chipped the puck out, and then broke the tie with Indrasis's goal off the rush. 

"Our backs were against the wall and we’re at home," Daugavins summarized. "We owe it to our fans, they’re buying tickets, spending big money to come watch us. We just started grinding shift by shift, period by period and here we are. Obviously Arturs (Silovs) is a big part of our team’s success, saving us when we make a mistake but we’ve been limiting those things. They’ve been happening less and less, which gives us a chance."