But it was the Kaspars Daugavinseffort that was crucial. Going into the game, Latvia needed a point. Despite leading twice in the second period, things looked doubtful when Switzerland turned things around. Andres Ambuhl scored in the 54th minute to put the Swiss up 3-2 and push Latvia to the brink of elimination.
But, as Balcers explained, Daugavins is the man for the big moment.
“He’s seen a lot, he’s played a lot of hockey and he knows the game,” Balcers said. “Kaspars knows how to step up in the big moments.
“Having him in the team this year with the leadership that he brings to the group is just unreal for us.”
Latvia got a boost when the teams were announced, with Switzerland resting a host of key players. Hischier, Kukan, Niederreiter, Malgin and Mayer were all absent from Patrick Fischer’s line-up in Riga.
However, even a weakened Switzerland proved no pushover. The first period was even, with Latvia struggling to test debutant Swiss goalie Joren van Pottelberghe. In the middle frame, the home team got up on goals from Ralfs Freibergs and Rodrigo Abols, but could not hold onto that advantage. However, the big finale sends Latvia through to a quarterfinal on home ice against Sweden.
While most of Riga celebrated, the Slovakian team was left distraught. A 4-1 victory in the early game had Slovakia close to securing a QF spot for itself. Marek Hrivik and Peter Cehlarik scored in the first eight minutes to put the Slovaks in control. The win put Craig Ramsay’s team ahead of Latvia into fourth place, but only until the evening game. Daugavins’ goal ended Slovakia’s celebrations and sent the team home.
The Norwegian loss ensured that Kazakhstan would take sixth place in the group and 11th overall. That’s the country’s second-best result, with only 10th place in the Covid-affected 2021 tournament ahead of it.
The remaining Group B game was almost a dead rubber. Canada and the Czech Republic were also assured of progressing to the last eight. Their head-to-head battle on Tuesday would decide second and third place in Group B. Canada got the verdict, winning 3-1 on goals from Peyton Krebs, Tyler Myers and an empty-netter from Lawson Crouse. Canada will now travel to Tampere to face Finland, while the Czechs travel to Finland to face the USA.
Finland finished its Group A campaign with a flourish, defeating Denmark 7-1 in Tampere. That rubber-stamped third place in the group for the host nation.
We haven’t always seen the most impressive Finnish hockey in the preliminary round, but Jukka Jalonen’s defending champion secured its playoff place with something to spare and is showing signs of hitting form as it goes into the decisive phase of the tournament. Goals from Marko Anttila and Atte Ohtamaa got the Leijonat off to a fast start against the Danes, and Ville Pokka added a third late in the opening frame to put the game beyond reach.
After that it was plain sailing, with further markers from Hannes Bjorninen, Juho Lammikka, Kasperi Kaponen and Nikolas Matinpalo. Nikolaj Ehlers got a consolation effort for the Danes to mark his father’s last game as head coach of the national team. Heinz Ehlers was behind the bench since 2018, but his contract ends after the tournament and the Danes will not progress to the quarter-finals. Finland advances to play Canada, a repeat of the last three gold medal games.
Germany secured its place in the quarter-final with a 5-0 win over France. J.J. Peterka, a 21-year-old prospect with Buffalo Sabres, led the scoring with a goal and an assist, and moves to nine points for the tournament. France failed to score for the third game in a row and has now gone 190 minutes without finding the net.
Sweden and the USA were already qualified, but they still had to decide top spot in Group A. As you’d expect from two teams in red hot form, this was a hard-fought battle. The Americans got up 3-1 in a game disrupted by frequent penalty calls. However, the Swedes fought back to 3-3 on goals from Leo Carlsson and Timothy Liljegren in the last six minutes. Dylan Samberg was the overtime hero for the USA, which finishes the preliminary round undefeated and goes on to face the Czechs in its quarter-final match-up while Sweden travels to play Latvia.
Main photo: Eurasia Sport Images / Getty Sport / GettyImages.ru