Latvia edges Norway for QF berth
by Lucas Aykroyd|24 APR 2023
It was a hard-fought defensive struggle between Latvia and Norway, with the Latvians prevailing 1-0 to secure the last quarter-final berth in Group B.
photo: Matt Zambonin / IIHF

Toms Mots scored the winner with 6:57 left in the third period as Latvia beat Norway 1-0 to advance to the quarter-finals of the 2023 U18 Worlds.

Defenceman Peteris Bulans carried the puck into the Norwegian zone on the left side and found captain Eriks Mateiko in the right faceoff circle. He zapped a crisp feed to Mots on the doorstep for the tap-in.

"It feels amazing," said Mateiko. "I'm really proud of everybody on the team. I feel like everybody played a really good game and just did everything for the country to win the game."

Shots were dead even at 19 apiece and the game could have gone either way.

Winless Norway is eliminated from quarter-finals contention regardless of the result of its last group game against Finland on Tuesday. The Norwegians will play in the relegation round against Germany.

"Of course, it's not the situation we want to be in," said Norwegian captain Felix Granath. "Not happy, not happy."

"We watched all the German games, so we know a little bit what they're about," said Norwegian coach Christer Nylund. "Of course, they have probably the same kind of feeling that we have right now after leading their game [against Slovakia] and then suddenly going down. Two disappointed teams are going to play, but we know that if we play at our best, then we can beat them."

This was the first Latvia-Norway game in U18 Worlds history, and the teams got off to an appropriately nervy start in the scoreless first period.

On an opening-minute power play for Latvia, Davids Livisics had the best chance, ringing one off the cross bar. During a mid-period Norwegian man advantage, Herman Boger also hit the iron.

The Latvians looked particularly nervous, taking four straight minors, including back-to-back delay-of-game penalties for putting the puck over the glass. At one point, Valters Niedrajs, who leads Latvia with two goals, stole the puck at the Latvian blue line and sped off on a shorthanded breakaway, but Norwegian goalie Martin Lundberg vacuumed up his shot.

The intensity ramped up in the second period, which was a titanic defensive struggle. Norwegian defender Stian Solberg flattened an onrushing Karlis Ceslis with a heavy hit by the Latvian bench. Lundberg made a fine left-pad save on Markuss Streikiss from the slot with under two minutes left in the frame.

"I really like it when it's hard," Mateiko said. "It's more interesting and emotions are always good."

After Mots' third-period go-ahead goal, the Norwegians pressed diligently but couldn't find the equalizer. Lundberg went to the bench for the extra attacker to no avail. The Latvians mobbed their goalie Aksels Ozols at the buzzer.

"Last year, we couldn't go down [as there was no relegation].," Mateiko said. "The emotions weren't as big as now. So I feel like it's just really good for our '06 guys that they stay up. We didn't play just for ourselves. We played for our future too."

"Me and my assistant coaches, we were hockey players and we said that we would love to be on the ice and for that last period definitely!" added Latvian coach Olegs Sorokins. "It's great that we won, and it was a great battle from the Norwegian team."

Latvia achieved an all-time best seventh-place finish in 2022. Norway, newly promoted this year, has never done better than ninth place, but now it's all about survival for the Scandinavians.
Latvia vs Norway - 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship