Qualifying Round | April 30, 2004 | Prague, CZE
PRAGUE – If the world of international hockey needed a reminder about how good a goalie Roberto Luongo is, they have it now.
Luongo stopped 33 shots in Canada’s 2-0 win over Latvia on Friday in the opening game of the qualifying round at the World Hockey Championship. The win gives Canada five points in the E Group standings.
Luongo’s best save came in the second period when he made a sensational sliding pad save on former Bruins winger Grigory Pantelejev.
"They have such a great goalie," said Latvia’s Sergei Zholtoks, who plays for the Nashville Predators. "The defence knows all they have to do is clear the puck and our forwards aren’t that big so we didn’t have much success driving to the net."
Luongo, who plays for the Florida Panthers and is one of the best young goalies if no the best in the NHL, is no stranger to international play. He made 37 saves last year in the championship game of the world tournament last year and he’s focused on helping Canada defend its title here in the Czech capital.
"He takes all the space," said Patrice Bergeron, who scored his first goal of the tournament. "Even if there is a hole, he closes it pretty quick."
Luongo played 72 games for Florida this season and set an NHL record in saves with 2,303. He registered the third-highest save percentage in the league at .931 and finished fifth in shutouts with seven.
He’s a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the top netminder and a finalist for the Lester B. Pearson Award for the MVP as voted on by NHL players.
In three starts in the ’04 worlds, Luongo has given up three goals and none were his fault.
"When he is on, he is on," adds captain Ryan Smyth. "He is a big man but when you take all his gear off, he is tall and very lanky."The Canadians got off to a fast start but it didn’t take long for the Latvians to play their trump card. They clogged up the neutral zone and hardly bothered to forecheck the Canadians. So the Canadians either had to make a perfect pass or simply dump it in.
Suffice it to say the play was as exciting as bran muffin at times.
Meanwhile Canada’s defence turned in a superb effort, allowing Luongo to see the first shot and they cleared the rebounds.
"When I see more shots I am more comfortable out there," said Luongo. "The guys are doing a good job, clearing shots and clearing guys out of the way. It really helps me out."
Canada will have Saturday off before playing back-to-back games Sunday against Germany, which will have Olaf Kolzig in goal, and the host Czech Republic, with its list of stars including Jaromir Jagr, Martin Rucinsky and Thomas Vacoun.
"I go against Kollie (Kolzig) all the time so there will not be any difference,"
says Luongo about a possible match-up against his Southeast Division rival.
PRAGUE (CP) - Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers made 33 saves Friday as Canada defeated Latvia 2-0 to remain unbeaten at the world hockey championship.
Rookie Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins and star defenceman Scott Niedermayer of the New Jersey Devils scored for Canada (3-0-1), who came out strong but needed some big saves from Luongo in the second period when Latvia missed several scoring chances.
Despite chants of ``Lat-via, Lat-via' from its fervent fans at Sazka Arena, 10th-ranked Latvia couldn't solve Luongo, who made a sensational sliding pad save on former Bruins winger Grigory Pantelejev midway through the second period.
For those who lament the lack of excitement in the NHL, Friday's game demonstrated that boring, defensive-minded hockey is played on both sides of the ocean - red-line or no red-line.
The Latvians sat back and clogged up the neutral zone with all five skaters, offering almost no forecheck. So the Canadians either had to make a perfect pass or simply dump it in.
It made for a dull affair but Team Canada could care less, continuing to improve in small steps as it builds towards the medal round. Canada faces Germany on Sunday (TSN, 2 p.m. EDT) before closing out the qualifying round Monday against Jaromir Jagr and the host Czech Republic.
Former roller hockey netminder Sergei Naumov was the surprise starter in goal for Latvia. Head coach Curt Lindstrom chose to bench Arturs Irbe of the Carolina Hurricanes, perhaps in an effort to catch Canada off guard.
The 35-year-old Naumov spent seven years in North America with stops in the WCHL, IHL and ECHL, as well as four years in Roller Hockey International. He made some big saves early on, his biggest from in-close on Dany Heatley, but was out of position when Canada opened the scoring 12:38 into the first period. Naumov finished with 30 saves.
Bergeron, the second-youngest player to ever play for Canada at this tournament, grabbed a
loose puck behind the goal and wrapped it around into the empty net, Naumov having come out to make a save on
Latvia then turned its game up a notch, throwing rubber at Luongo from all angles in the hope of catching a break. But Luongo was in perfect position to weather the Latvian attack.
The Latvians opened up their game in the third period and applied more pressure on the Canadians, but were thwarted several times by a confident-looking Luongo. The Canadians, who had to kill off three Latvian power plays in the final period, appeared a little too content with their two-goal lead, offering very little attack in the third.
Canada improved to 4-0-1 all-time against Latvia, including a 6-1 win last year in Turku, Finland, when Irbe was in goal. Canada also stretched its undefeated streak to 13 games (11-0-2) at the world championship, its last loss to Slovakia in the 2002 quarter-finals at Karlstad, Sweden.
The Canadians have only scored 10 goals in four games, but yet have only conceded three.
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Brad Pascall Vice-President, Hockey Operations