U.S. routs Latvia to move on
by Lucas AYKROYD|02 JAN 2024
The U.S.'s Will Smith (#6) high-fives his teammates after scoring a second-period goal in a 7-2 quarter-final victory over Latvia at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Chris Tanouye
The American offence went into high gear in Tuesday's 7-2 quarter-final romp over Latvia. The all-18-year-old line of Will Smith, Ryan Leonard, and Gabe Perreault dominated, combining for six points. Blueliner Seamus Casey chipped in three assists.

Most importantly, the U.S. is one step closer to winning its first gold medal since 2021 and sixth all-time. The Americans settled for bronze last year in Halifax with a 8-7 overtime win over Sweden.

Latvian captain Dans Locmelis scored twice, while fellow NHL draftee Sandis Vilmanis had a couple of great chances he couldn't convert.

Final shots favoured the U.S. 41-25. The result was never seriously in doubt.

Coach David Carle’s troops have delivered easily the tournament's most lethal attack so far, with 29 goals in the preliminary round alone. They stayed hot from the get-go in the quarter-final. Drew Fortescue stepped in from the point and beat Latvian starter Deivs Rolovs with the first U.S. shot at 1:31.

The Latvians strove to hinder their more-skilled opponents with active sticks and gritty work along the boards. But the U.S. broke them down, and Perreault made it 2-0 at 11:42 on a perfect back-door feed from Casey at the right point.

Latvia got some life when Locmelis scored unassisted at 13:50, skating into the right faceoff circle and beating U.S. netminder Jacob Fowler high over the glove. But just 13 seconds later, Nelson restored the two-goal U.S. lead when Casey's shot from the side boards deflected in off him.

In the second period, the U.S. kept on coming. Captain Rutger McGroarty finished off a dynamite passing sequence for the 4-1 power play marker at 5:22. On a 2-on-1, Smith converted a saucer pass from Leonard at 16:00, and Perreault batted one in out of mid-air with 39 seconds left in the frame.

In the third period, Cutter Gauthier sent a Wayne Gretzky-style pass from behind the net to Oliver Moore, who stretched the lead to 7-1 at 6:34.

Locmelis pulled a nice curl-and-drag move in the high slot before rounding out the scoring at 7-2 at 12:48.

The U.S.’s World Junior record against Latvia rises to a perfect 5-0. Previous U.S. wins were 12-1 (29 December, 2009), 12-2 (2 January, 2012), 6-1 (26 December, 2016), and 5-2 (26 December, 2022).

This is just the second time Latvia has made the World Junior quarter-finals. The Latvians finished seventh in 2022 in Edmonton after falling 2-1 to Sweden in the round of eight. And even if the scoreboard doesn't reflect it, this was another important step for their U20 program.
United States vs Latvia (QF) - 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship