Swiss goalie Kevin Pasche made six saves on seven Latvian shootout attempts: "I was pretty confident because in this season, that's my third shootout series and I've allowed just one goal. So I'm pretty confident in that spot. I was confident in my teammates, and we're doing great. So I'm very happy."
The Swiss have now won two consecutive games in extra time. The Latvians, who finished seventh at the 2022 World Juniors, gave no quarter, much as in in their 5-2 Day One loss to the Americans. But unfortunately, they let their 2-1 lead versus Switzerland slip away in the dying stage of the third period.
If this trend keeps up, New Brunswick might become Switzerland’s favourite Canadian province. Not only do two members of the Moncton Wildcats – Jonas Taibel and Miles Muller – play for Switzerland, but the red-and-white team is also unbeaten at the Avenir Centre. The Swiss started off on Boxing Day with a surprising 3-2 win over Finland on Attilio Biasca’s overtime goal.
"It's just an amazing feeling," Taibel said. "It's a really good start for us and gives us a good feeling for the last two games in the group stage. So now we have a lot of confidence and we keep on going."
In regulation time, Louis Robin and Rodwin Dionicio scored for Switzerland.
Dans Locmelis and Darels Dukurs scored for Latvia. Captain Gustavs Ozolins chipped in a pair of assists.
Locmelis voiced his displeasure post-game: "I think we played terrible the whole game. We just came out slow and they beat us in every situation. We couldn't even play well in the last two minutes. So I think we didn't deserve to win."
In a showdown between number one goalies getting their second straight starts, Pasche posted 16 saves for the win. Latvia’s Patriks Berzins was strong again with 27 saves.
A small but vocal contingent of Latvian fans countered the cluster of Swiss flags displayed in the Avenir Centre stands.
At 8:20, Robin drew first blood with his first World Junior goal. The 19-year-old Val-d’Or Foreurs forward fought free in front of the net to whack a rebound from Brian Zanetti’s shot over Berzins.
The Swiss physical play continued as towering blueliner Lian Bichsel stapled Latvian assistant captain Darels Dukurs to the boards. But the Latvians were undaunted.
At 13:03, Locmelis swooped into the slot, and after his initial high shot came off Pasche’s glove, he followed up to fire the rebound for a 1-1 game.
"Gustavs [Ozolins] gave me an excellent pass in the middle," Locmelis said. "I tried to make a quick shot and then I got the rebound and did some fake and scored the goal."
With under four minutes left in the first period, Swiss rearguard Vincent Despont got dinged for interference after he decked Locmelis with a high-ish hit in the neutral zone. The Latvians failed to capitalize on the power play and also squandered a breakaway when Roberts Cjunskis shot wide.
The second period witnessed strong goaltending by Berzins as the Swiss had the better of the play in the early going. Pasche was there too when called upon. He stymied Locmelis in close with a great left pad save with six minutes left in the frame.
On the power play, Latvia jumped into its first lead with 2:10 left in the period. Dukurs finally got rewarded for his persistence, finding a rebound to dribble a backhander under Pasche. The 19-year-old Sigulda native, interestingly, has spent five seasons developing with Langnau in Switzerland and has one assist in four games on loan with SC Langenthal this year.
"For me, it's special to score against Switzerland," Dukurs said. "I play there myself. So obviously it's good that I scored."
The third period got chippier as the tension increased. Switzerland's Maximilian Streule and Latvia's Sandis Vilmanis went off with coincidental minors when a scrum ensued in the Swiss end after an aborted Latvian rush.
With just over five minutes left in regulation, the Swiss had a great chance to equalize when Peteris Purmalis was penalized for tripping. Swiss coach Marco Bayer called his timeout to strategize with 4:08 remaining, but it didn't bear fruit.
With just 1:56 left, Dionicio fired a bullet from inside the blue line that soared past Berzins' glove to make it 2-2. The Swiss had showed their character yet again.
"They scored in the last two minutes and we can't let that happen," Dukurs said. "We have to keep pressuring them and keep going. We have to play to the end."
The Latvians had the best chances in overtime. Defenceman Niks Fenenko got a breakaway but was checked from behind by Lian Bichsel without getting off a shot. Dukurs had a nice chance in front, and with 30 seconds left in OT, Pasche foiled Bogdans Hodass, who broke in in off the left side.
Can Switzerland upset the U.S. on Thursday? Can Latvia surprise Finland the same day? Stay tuned.
Asked what it will take to succeed against the Americans, Pasche said: "The same game we played against Finland. Just play our game, play our system, trust the process. Have confidence that we can beat everybody. We just showed to everybody in the world maybe now we can be a good team."
Tuesday marks the first time Latvia has ever taken Switzerland to overtime at this tournament. The Swiss won the four previous encounters: 5-2 at the 2006 World Juniors, 7-5 at the 2010 World Juniors, 5-3 at the 2012 World Juniors, and 7-2 at the 2013 World Juniors.