Game Summary

Latvia 1 - Czech Republic 5

Round Robin
Monday, December 26, 2005
19:00 PAC
Kamloops, BC

LATVIA LOSES TO CZECHS IN ITS WORLD JUNIOR DEBUT

By Joe Fries | Box Score | Game Photos

The Czech Republic downed Latvia 5-1 in Kamloops Tuesday night, but the score was not reflective of the play. The Czechs could have easily hit double digits, had it not been for the outstanding performance of Latvian netminder Ugis Avotins, who faced 39 shots, many of them from in close.

Peter Pohl notched two goals for the Czechs, while Karel Hromas, Petr Kalus and Vaclav Meidl added singles. Gints Meija had Latvia’s lone goal, as his team mustered 20 shots on goal.

Though the first-ever game played by a Latvian team at the IIHF World Junior Championship will go down in history as a loss to the Czech Republic, the Latvians seemed to be at peace with the result.

Latvian Head Coach Olegs Znaroks was happy with his team’s performance. “We played not bad,” he said through a translator. “The Czechs are a very strong team. The result is pretty good for us,” said Znaroks.

The significance of the game was not lost on the Latvian players. “We carried a lot of emotions,” said Znaroks.

Avotins said through a translator that he felt good, something that stemmed from all the emotions surrounding the game. “When he’s emotional, he’s hot,” said the translator. Though he wasn’t exactly pleased with his team’s loss, the 19-year-old goalie still had a smile on his face while he reminisced about his performance.

The first period was fairly even, with the two teams trading scoring chances. Karel Hromas opened the scoring at 1:13 for Team Czech Republic, picking the puck out of a goalmouth scramble and sending it into the net along with Avotins, who was bowled over by one of his own defencemen. Petr Kalus deflected a point shot up over Avotins’ shoulder for the Czechs’ second goal of the period at 8:16.

Team Latvia got on the board when Gints Meija took a long lead-pass near the Czech blue-line and skated in on Schwarz, beating him on the short-side at 11:16 to make it 2-1.

The Czech Republic dominated the second period as a three-goal outburst sealed Latvia’s fate. At 8:47, Petr Pohl scored on a quick wrist-shot from the slot. Vaclav Meidl followed that up when he spun around from behind the net and beat Avotins five-hole at 9:37. Pohl’s second goal of the period, at 17:52, came after a faceoff in the Latvian zone. The puck squirted out of the scrum to Pohl and he walked unchecked around the Latvian net minder before sliding it home along the ice.

The game wasn’t a physical one but there were a few solid hits thrown. In the closing moments of the second period, the Czech Republic’s Petr Kalus delivered a devastating open-ice hit on Latvia’s Kaspars Daugavins. When play stopped, Kalus skated over to his bench and accepted congratulations from his teammates while Daugavin lay on the ice. After a few moments, the woozy Daugavins was helped off the ice by two of his teammates. He didn’t return to the game, but Latvia Coach Olegs Znaroks said through a translator that Daugavins would return for the next game.

There was no scoring in the third period, though the Czech Republic dominated play and spent nearly the entire period in the Latvian zone. Avotins singlehandedly held the Czechs at bay while his team was outshot 14-4 in the period.

Announced attendance was 4,653. The crowd clearly favoured the underdog Latvians, and Coach Znaroks said he appreciated the support and wished to extend his thanks to the fans. “Maybe the crowd thought we could take a point from the Czechs,” he added tongue-in-cheek. “[They’d be] happy because it’s better for the Canadians.”

The Czech power play generated lots of chances but was contained by the Latvian defence. A total of 13 hooking penalties were called during the course of the game, and Czech Coach Radim Rulik attributed that figure to strict officiating and the teams’ unfamiliarity with the crackdown on interference penalties. However, Rulik thought the game might have been called a little too tightly. “It’s too strict. [Hockey] will be similar to basketball soon,” he said.

Rulik said he was content with the outcome of the game and he recognized that the score would have been lopsided had it not been for Avotins. “He was very good [but] I’m glad we won because it’s the first game and it’s important to get a win,” said Rulik.

Latvia plays Slovakia on Tuesday, December 27 in Kelowna. The Czechs have a day off Tuesday before resuming play the following day in Kamloops versus Team Sweden. The Czech Republic’s Petr Kalus is happy with the break coming so early in the tournament. “We will use [the break] to tune up,” he said.

PREVIEW: LATVIA - CZECH REPUBLIC

By Joe Fries

Latvia: This is the first time the Latvians have had a team at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships. Their chances of winning a medal at this tournament aren’t great, but they could play the role of spoiler if their opponents take them lightly. Team Latvia split its two pre-tournament exhibition games, losing 3-1 to Finland, and then dropping Slovakia 5-1. Martins Karsums will lead the offence. Karsums, drafted 64th overall by the Boston Bruins in 2004, plays for the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL. He has 24 points in 23 games this season and is one of only two players on Team Latvia who has been drafted by the NHL. The other is his Wildcats teammate, defenceman Oskars Bartulis, a 2005 Philadelphia Flyers draft pick. Bartulis has 25 points in 35 games this season. Ugis Avotnis will get the start in net tonight. The 19-year-old plays for HC Riga 2000 in Latvia.

Czech Republic: The Czechs beat the Americans on home ice in North Dakota last year to take bronze at the 2005 World Junior Championship, and they finished fourth in 2004, so you can bet they’ll be hungry to improve upon those performances this year. They split their two exhibition games, losing 2-1 to Canadas and then thrashing Switzerland 6-1. Nearly half of the players on the Czech roster are NHL draft picks, three of them first-rounders. The team has plenty of offensive firepower, and all eyes will be on 17-year-old Michael Frolik. A gifted skater with great hands, Frolik has been playing in the Czech Republic this year and is expected to be taken early in the 2006 NHL Draft. He will be joined up front by Martin Hanzal, who was taken 17th overall by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2005. Defenceman Ladislav Smid, drafted ninth overall by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2004, will anchor a young Czech blueline. Marek Schwarz, selected 17th-overall by the St. Louis Blues in 2004, was awarded top goalie honours at the 2005 WJC and should be brimming with confidence in his third go-round in this tournament. But for this game, backup Radek Fiala could just as well get the start. It’ll be tough for the Latvians to make much headway against the formidable Czechs.

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