Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Monday’s games in Slovakia saw Sweden dig deep to edge Latvia 5-4, while there were dramatic wins for Great Britain and Italy to keep the newly-promoted teams in the top flight.

Sweden 5 Latvia 4 (1-0, 1-1, 3-3)

Dennis Rasmussen got Sweden’s winner 34 seconds from the end of a pulsating game in Bratislava. Sweden led for much of the action, but Latvia kept battling away and, thanks to a Roberts Bukarts hat-trick, kept this game tight throughout. However, Sweden had too much firepower in the end and goals from Anton Lander, Elias Pettersson, Patric Hornqvist and Adrian Kempe saw the Tre Kronor over the line. William Nylander had two assists and returns to the top of the tournament scoring with 15 (4+11), one ahead of Russia’s Nikita Kucherov.

Photo: 20.05.19. 2019 IIHF World Championship. Sweden - Latvia

For Latvia, the result ended any theoretical hope of reaching the last eight. Team captain Lauris Darzins said: “Our goal was to win the game and get three points to keep our chances alive for the quarter-finals. I think we gave it everything we had. We went out each shift and tried to play three quality periods to give ourselves the best chance. I’m proud of the guys on our team. It’s just too bad it wasn’t quite enough."

“The Latvians played well,” said Sweden’s Lander. “But we gave them several soft goals. We can’t afford to do that again. Tomorrow we’re up against Russia, they’re looking really good here, they have a powerful offense. We can’t allow Gusev and Kucherov that kind of time on the puck, we’ve got to be very aware of them.”

That Russia – Sweden encounter takes place on Tuesday as the group phase comes to a close. The winner will top Group B and remain in Bratislava to face the fourth-placed team from Kosice, most likely Germany.

And after a tougher than expected examination against Latvia, Sweden’s head coach Rikard Gronborg is hoping for a different type of game. “We’re not used to the type of hockey that Latvia plays,” he said. “Most of our players come from the NHL, and it’s a very different game there. Most of Russia’s players are in the NHL as well so the style of the game will be different, and more familiar for our team.”

Italy survives in a shoot-out

Austria 3 Italy 4 SO (2-1, 0-2, 1-0, 0-0, 0-1)

Newly-promoted Italy snatched Elite Pool survival with a shoot-out win over Austria. Neither team had mustered a victory in the group phase and both nations had long ago identified this game as the key to surviving. In a high-stakes game, the lead see-sawed. Italy went 1-0 up through Anthony Bardaro, Austria replied with goals from Manuel Ganahl and Michael Raffl. The second period saw Italy back in front after tallies from Simon Kostner and Marco Rosa, the latter in his rookie World Championship campaign at the age of 37. Raffl tied it up early in the third but it would take a shoot-out to separate the teams. That too went back and forth before Sean McMonagle won it for Italy. The Azzurri stay up, Austria drops to Division I one year after its own survival special at the expense of Belarus.

Great Britain upsets the odds

France 3 Great Britain 4 OT (0-0, 3-2, 0-1, 0-1)

Few gave Britain, ranked 22 in the world, much hope of surviving in the Elite Pool as the country returned to this level for the first time in 25 years. With a roster based almost entirely in the British championship and boasting no significant experience of the world’s top leagues, the Brits looked destined to go swiftly back to Division I. Some heavy beatings in the group phase – notably a 0-9 howler against Denmark – did nothing to dispel that impression, yet going into Monday’s match-up with France, GB could still survive if it scraped together some kind of victory.

A strong first period brought no goals, and it looked as though Pete Russell’s team would suffer for that when France jumped to a 3-0 lead early in the second period. Two goals in six seconds – only once in World Championship play has a team scored faster – seemed to have settled it for France.

But Britain rallied bravely. Robert Dowd converted a Ben O’Connor pass to reduce the deficit, then Mike Hammond grabbed his fourth goal of the tournament to make it 3-2. A visibly nervous French team allowed Robert Farmer to tie it up and, after a string of great saves from Ben Bowns in overtime, Ben Davies grabbed the winner at the other end.

“It feels incredible,” Davies said. “Bownsy made some unbelievable saves to keep us in the game, we had a PK with four minutes to go. The boys just put everything on the line throughout the tournament and we just knew if we just stuck with it we could get it done.”

The second game in Kosice was rather less dramatic. Canada eased past Denmark with a 5-0 scoreline to move to second in Group A. Jonathan Marchessault led the way with a goal and an assist to move to 9 points for the tournament.

Andy Potts Andy Potts
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