Latvia eliminated from Worlds
by Chris Jurewicz|21 MAY 2024

Despite being outshot and outplayed for the majority of the game, the Latvians kept it close.

Two goals in 16 seconds in the third cut a 4-1 American lead to 4-3 but that was as close as Latvia would get, eventually dropping the game 6-3.

Coming close, as they say, is only good in horseshoes and hand grenades. Alas, close wasn’t enough to push Latvia into a quarter-final spot as the loss on Tuesday means the Latvians finish fifth in Group B and ninth overall. Latvia needed a regulation win to give itself a chance at the playoffs.

"Obviously, we were expecting to be in a quarter-final. I’m just proud of the guys, we never gave up," said Latvian captain Kaspars Daugavins. "We had some tough situations in this tournament, three back-to-back games, but we always kept battling and, all the way to the last day, we gave ourselves a chance."

Latvia won bronze one year ago in a thrilling 4-3 overtime win over Team USA.

"Maybe we had a little too much pressure coming here after last year, but we still have to play our game every day," said Latvian Raivis Ansons. "The first couple of games weren't our best, and we could have had three points from those games, but we adjusted and brought our best every night. I think we'll be ready next year to try to make the playoffs."

Team USA finishes second in Group B and will now await the result of Finland-Switzerland to see who its quarter-final opponent will be.

Against Latvia, Team USA put two pucks in the Latvian net in the first 2:44. First, Brady Tkachuk scored his seventh goal of the tournament when he took a drop pass from Cole Caufield and roofed a shot over the shoulder of Latvian goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis at 1:23.

Just over a minute later, Team USA appeared to take a 2-0 lead when Gavin Bradley jammed in a loose puck in the blue paint following four Gudlevskis saves on Michael Eyssimont. However, Latvian head coach Harijs Vitolins challenged the play and it was determined that Eyssimont interfered with Gudlevskis as he jammed at the puck several times and hit the goaltender’s pads. So it remained 1-0 United States.

Gudlevskis was outstanding in the first, stopping 16 of 18 shots. His best save came off the stick of Johnny Gaudreau, who found open space to the Latvia goaltender’s right, took a perfect pass from Brock Nelson but couldn’t beat Gudlevskis with a quick snap shot.

The Latvian couldn’t stop them all though. At 13:20, Zach Werenski made the Latvians pay for puck watching in their own zone. He was left alone in front and took a pass from Caufield before Werenski showed great skill in roofing a backhander to make it 2-0.

"Well, we knew the atmosphere was going to be really loud and something that we’re going to be facing throughout the rest of the tournament," said forward Michael Eyssimont, who is the lone American who played in Team USA's 4-3 overtime loss to Latvia in the 2023 Worlds bronze game. "The fans were really loud. Besides that, Latvia is a really good team and has a really good track record against us so we knew it was going to be a challenge."

Caufield got his first goal and third point of the game early in the second. With the Americans on a powerplay, Matt Boldy passed to an open Caufield in the slot and the Montreal Canadiens star made no mistake with the finish, snapping a high shot past Gudlevskis.

The Latvians didn’t go away, with Renars Krastenbergs scoring a minute later to make it 3-1. Krastenbergs’ hard wrist shot beat United States goaltender Charlie Lindgren, playing in his first game at these Worlds after joining the team this week following an injury to Alex Lyons.

Roberts Bukarts nearly made it 3-2 with about eight minutes to play in the second as his shot, incredibly, hit the left post, rolled right down the goal line and then hit the right post before veering to the corner.

Team USA got into penalty trouble with five minutes left in the second, with Nelson and Trevor Zegras going to the box at the same time for a pair of tripping calls, giving Latvia a 5-on-3 powerplay. But Latvia’s misery with the man advantage continued, with Team USA killing off the penalties.

Despite being outshot 32-18 through two, Latvia entered the third only down two goals.

Latvia wasn’t ready at puck drop in the third and Boldy scored on a backhander through the five-hole of Gudlevskis just 15 seconds into the frame. The goal gave the Americans plenty of insurance. At least, it appeared that way.

But Eduards Tralmaks scored with 15 minutes left to make it 4-2, on a shot from the side of the net that Lindgren dove to save, getting a piece of the puck but then watching it trickle over the goal line. Sixteen seconds later, the never-quit Latvians made it 4-3 when Roberts Mamcics’ point shot beat Lindgren.
That goal prompted American coach Jon Hynes to take a timeout to calm his players.

"We knew we couldn’t let them hang around and we did a little bit," said Eyssimont. "So that’s why they got back in the game but we were able to close it out."

Caufield got the dagger with nine minutes left in the third with his second goal and fourth point of the game. After grabbing the puck behind the net, Caufield walked out front and ripped a shot top shelf on Gudlevskis’ blocker side to make it 5-3.

With the Latvian net empty, American Joel Farabee was slashed on a breakaway and awarded an automatic goal on the play to conclude the scoring.

The United States, which has now qualified for the quarter-finals in 13 consecutive Worlds, will face either Czechia or Switzerland in the playoff round.