Latvia takes the lead
by Andrew Podnieks|02 JAN 2023
Latvia's Dans Locmelis (#11) celebrates with Rainers Darzins (#14) and Darels Dukurs (#19) after scoring a goal against Austria.
photo: Matt Zambonin / IIHF
Latvia drew first blood in the best-of-three relegation by beating Austria, 5-2, this afternoon in the first of three games of a busy day in Halifax.

Emils Veckaktins scored twice while defender Bogdans Hodass had a goal and two assists for the winners, who outshot Austria, 46-13.

This was only the second ever meeting between these teams in World Junior play, the first coming back on 2010, won by Latvia, 6-4. This game was the first of a best-of-three, the winner moving on to the top level of the World Juniors next year, the losers demoted to the Division I Group A.

"We just wanted to play our game, do our best," said Latvia's Dans Locmelis. "I think we did a good job today but we're not done; we still have one more game, so we have to prepare for that one now."

"We started off pretty well," offered Austrian forward Tim Geifes, "but we let them take over in the second and third periods, and we kind of gave it to them with the five-minute penalty in the third. I think we need to get more pucks to the net. Our two goals weren't the prettiest, but we just got shots on the net. We have to do more of that the next game in order to win."
Latvia vs Austria (Rel.) - 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship
LAT AUT 02 JAN 2023
Austria got on the board first at 5:20 on a goal by Luca Auer. The Austrians kept the puck in at the blue line, and Auer came out form the corner and flipped a backhand off the post that fooled Patrisk Berzins. It was the first lead Austria has had all tournament.

Latvia managed to tie the game late in the period on a power play when Locmelis fired a shot between the pads of Thomas Pfarrmaier at 16:16. Undaunted, Austria took the lead again less than two minutes later. Captain Vinzenz Rohrer beat Berzins with another low shot, this time a screen that just squeezed between the goalie’s pads.

Although the Austrians played a tight defensive second period it was clear Latvia was slowly and surely gaining in confidence, which in turn meant more puck possession and time in the Austrian end. It took a while, but late in the period their patience and determination were rewarded. Anri Ravinskis tried to come out front with the puck, and although he lost it, it came right to Veckaktins. He wired a high shot over Pfarrmaier’s glove at 17:01 to tie the game again.

Latvia took its first lead midway through the third on a nice passing play around the Austrian goal. Rihards Simanovics spotted Veckaktins and got him the puck in front, and Veckaktins made no mistake notching his second of the game.

Any hopes of a comeback for Austria were dashed midway through when Finn van Ee took a five-minute major and game misconduct for kneeing. That not only killed half the time remaining but it gave Latvia a chance to control play and pad their lead, which they did. Vilmanis whipped a high shot in at 11:22 to double the Latvian lead and put the game out of reach.

Austrian coach Kirk Furey lifted Pfarrmaier with more than three minutes remaining, and soon after the puck came to Berzins to the side of his goal. He took aim at the empty net, but didn't get enough on it and the attempt didn't make it out of the Latvian end. It would have been the first ever goalie goal at the World Juniors.

Hodass added an empty netter on a rink-long clearing at 18:54 to close out the scoring.
Latvia vs Austria (Rel.) - 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship