Dany Heatley of the Atlanta Thrashers had two goals and an assist and Mike Comrie of the Edmonton Oilers added two goals as Canada beat Latvia 6-1 Sunday to improve to 2-0 at the 2003 IIHF world hockey championship in Finland.
Veteran defenceman Cory Cross of the Oilers had a goal and an assist in his first game and Daniel Briere of the Buffalo Sabres also scored for Canada, who next face gold medal favourite Sweden on Tuesday (TSN, 1 p.m. EDT) to wrap up the preliminary round.
"I think we took a step forward tonight against Latvia," Heatley told TSN following the game. "We played pretty strong for the whole game and got the four points, which we needed. Now we've got a big game on Tuesday against Sweden."
Comrie scored twice in the third period, both on re-direct attempts from in-close while Briere added a breakaway goal between the legs of Carolina Hurricanes goalie Arturs Irbe to make it 6-1 as Canada broke open a game that had been tight checking through 40 minutes.
Latvia's game plan was to sit back and hope for a Canadian mistake, while repeatedly trying for the breakaway pass on their breakout attempts. But Canada, which played Latvia in Riga in an exhibition last Wednesday, was prepared for those tactics. The Canadians countered by dumping the puck behind Latvia's wall of players and working the puck down low.
The Canadians used their relentless forecheck to dominate puck possession, creating a series of scoring
chances on a shaky Irbe, who was beaten between the legs three times.
Canada outshot Latvia 31-20 as Luongo earned the win in his first start after Sean Burke shut out Belarus 3-0 on Saturday.
Cross and forward Steve Reinprecht of the Colorado Avalanche played their first games for Canada after arriving on Saturday. Reinprecht also made an immediate impact, setting up Heatley's first goal 2:25 into the game on his first shift.
Heatley, playing the point on a power play, sneaked in for Reinprecht's pass and waited out Irbe before rifling a shot under the crossbar.
The game was played in front of a sea of Latvian fans standing and whistling throughout, chanting "Lat-vi-a! Lat-vi-a!" Elysee Arena exploded into a delirious celebration when Sergei Cubars pounced on a rebound and poked the puck under Canadian goalie Roberto Luongo to tie the game 1-1 at 12:14 of the first period.
The drums began pounding even louder and the chanting more intense as the beer-drinking fans of Latvia sensed a potential upset.
But Cross brought down the volume slightly when his backhand wraparound effort beat Irbe with just over three minutes left in the first. Cross then got into it again as his wrist shot from the point 11:46 into the second period was neatly deflected in front by the talented Heatley.
Canada faced a Latvian team missing two of its most important national team members thanks to those Western Conference upsets in the NHL. Star defenceman Sandis Ozolinsh of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and centre Sergei Zholtok of the Minnesota Wild are invaluable members of Latvia's team, which otherwise is primarily comprised of Russian League players.
Irbe is a regular fixture at the worlds, except for last year when Carolina had its surprising Stanley Cup run. The only other NHLer this year is defenceman Karlis Skrastins of the Nashville Predators, who was kicked out of Saturday's 3-1 loss against Sweden after hammering Marcus Nilson from behind. The Florida Panthers forward was taken out on a stretcher and is out of the tournament with a severe concussion.
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