RUSSIA SQUEAKS PAST LATVIA FOR THIRD WIN
By Joe Fries |
The Russians downed Latvia 3-1 in Kamloops Thursday night, but it was by no means the blowout that many
expected. The game featured an unsuccessful Russian penalty shot and some fine goaltending from Latvia’s Ugis
Avotins, whose team was outshot 40-20. The 4,831 fans on hand made a valiant effort to spur the Latvians to
victory, but to no avail.
“I believe that we didn’t have much chance for a big score in the first and second period, but in the third,
the goaltender from Latvia did a good job,” said Russian Head Coach Sergey Mikhalev with the aid of
translator Olga McQueen.
“Our boys did their best,” Mikhalev added, “[but] we all know that bad games [happen]. The score is the
score, and it’s always going to be there.”
Russia’s Alexei Emelin complimented the Latvians on their effort afterwards--sort of: “[They’re] not very
skilled players, but [they’re] a very hardworking and persistent team [that makes up for] a lack of skill
with hard work on the ice,” said Emelin.
Russia played a fairly leisurely brand of hockey after notching two goals six seconds apart to start the
game. On the power play, Evgeni Malkin took a pass from Denis Bodrov deep in the Latvian zone, and, after
looking around to assess his options, skated out from the corner. With no defenders to hinder him, he slid a
backhander under Avotins at 3:54.
Then off the ensuing faceoff, Nikolai Lemtyugov picked up the loose puck, slipped through two Latvian
defenders and shoved the puck one-handed past Avotins, who had come out of his net to attempt a
After building the 2-0 lead, the Russians kept the pressure on, but ceded a few chances to the Latvians.
Elviss Zelubovskis had a wide-open net on the power play, but bobbled the puck. Semen Varlamov got the start
in net for the Russians who gave a night off to their starter, Anton Khudobin. The Latvians were outshot 16-7
in the opening frame.
Momentum shifted back-and-forth in the second period. Things didn’t start well for the Latvians when Guntis
Galvins took a five-minute boarding penalty at 6:47. His team, however, was able to kill it off, limiting the
Russians to just a couple of shots. Latvia was able to build some momentum off the penalty kill, and when the
Russians were assessed a bench minor for too many men at 11:54, a Latvian goal seemed imminent--and it
Edgars Adamovics rang a point shot off the post, and the puck bounced out from behind the Russian netminder
and onto the stick of Jurijs Klujevskis, who was waiting at the side of the net to lift a backhander into the
net at 12:58.
At 15:04, Russia’s Gennady Churilov was awarded a penalty shot after being hauled down on a breakaway. With
the fans booing thunderously, he tried to deke Avotins on the short side, but waited too long, and the
Latvian goaltender was able to get a pad on the puck.
Latvia’s hopes seemed to be buoyed by the turn of events, but their momentum was killed when Lemtyugov got
his second of the night at 16:26, breaking in on the Latvian goal with defenders trailing and snapping a
wrist shot under Avotins’ blocker. The Russians took a 3-1 lead into the dressing room.
Although there was no scoring in the final frame, it turned into a bit of a shootout with the Latvians
getting some good chances and the Russian netminder getting some lucky breaks. Avotins continued his
outstanding play to keep it close.
Although Latvian captain Martins Karsums was named his team’s Player of the Game, he said he that once in the
dressing room he handed the award over to Avotins.
“Without him, the score would have been 10-1 or something,” said Karsums, who plays for QMJHL’s Moncton
Wildcats. Despite the loss, the 19-year-old left wing was satisfied with his team’s performance.
“This is our first game like this against a strong team like the Russians. We played pretty good and [hung]
in there tight,” he said.
Karsums acknowledged that Team Russia may not have played up to its full potential: “They’re a pretty good
team [who] maybe played not their best game, but maybe they’re going to step up and get better.”
Russia’s Emelin also felt his team was lacking something: “We were too relaxed and didn’t come out focused,
but we will get better and better with every game we play.” Sounding hopeful, he added: “We haven’t played
our best game yet.”
That top-flight effort may come in the Russians’ last Round Robin game in Kelowna on Saturday, when they put
their perfect record on the line versus the Czech Republic.
Latvia, which has lost three straight, faces Sweden in Kamloops tomorrow night in its final Round Robin
PREVIEW: LATVIA - RUSSIA
By Joe Fries
Latvia: Winless so far, the Latvians need a victory over the Russians tonight to spare themselves a
guaranteed date with the Relegation Round. And that will be tough. The Latvians dropped their first two games
of the tournament, losing 5-1 to the Czechs and 7-4 to Slovakia. They had the day off yesterday and should be
well-rested as they try to reverse their fortunes against a red-hot Team Russia tonight. The Latvians showed
a glimmer of hope versus the Slovaks, scoring four goals, but will need to give it everything they’ve got to
secure a victory over the high-flying Russians. Forward Elviss Zelubovskis has a pair of goals, while Martins
Karsums and Kaspars Daugavins both have two helpers. Latvia’s defencemen have been fairly ineffective thus
far, relying on their goaltenders to get them out of jams. No solid word on who will start in goal tonight,
but, after giving up five goals, Ugis Avotins, who started the team’s first two games, was replaced by
Kristaps Stigis halfway through the Slovakia game. Latvia’s penalty killing has been good so far, ranked
second overall in the tournament, but may struggle containing the top-ranked Russian power play. On paper,
the Latvians appear to be overmatched against the Russians, but if they focus on the 60 minutes at hand,
anything can happen. They may draw some inspiration from Latvia’s victories at the senior level over Russia
at the 2000 and 2004 IIHF World Championships. The fan favourites can surely count on a supportive Kamloops
crowd tonight that will do everything it can to spur the Latvians to victory.
Russia: Team Russia cancelled its morning skate today, electing to rest after coming off a 6-2 win over
Slovakia in Kelowna on Wednesday night. The Russians have won both their Round Robin Game so far and will
look to extend their winning streak versus the Latvians tonight. The Russian offence has spread the scoring
around, with all but five players registering a point in their first two games. Alexei Emelin leads the
Russians with five points, and Evgeni Malkin, with four, has looked head and shoulders above his competitors
so far. Another Russian with four points, forward Nikolai Kulemin, was assessed a match penalty for fighting
last night, and he will be suspended for today’s game. On Friday, the IIHF Directorate will discuss whether
Kulemin’s suspension will be extended or lifted. The Russians have the best power play in the tournament so
far, but they are also the third most penalized team, so they’ll have to keep their tempers in check here.
Goaltender Anton Khudobin of the Saskatoon Blades boasts the tournament’s best save percentage, having
allowed just three goals on 58 shots. On paper, the Russians should easily handle the Latvians tonight. But
the Big Red Machine still needs to take its gritty, hard-working opponents seriously. Most World Junior
tournaments feature an upset or two, and the hungry Latvians would love nothing more than to be the team that
knocks the Russians down off their high horse.