Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sweden runs over Latvia


Sweden (3W-0L), meanwhile, can enjoy a day off before taking on Russia for first place in Group A on New Year’s Eve.

The optimal – albeit unlikely – scenario for the Latvians would see them defeating Finland on Tuesday and the Finns beating Slovakia on New Year’s Eve. This would leave the trio in a three-way tie, but Latvia would still be in a bad position to reach third place since they lost 7-2 to Slovakia on Day Two. (A three-team tie is broken by counting goal differential in only the games between the involved teams.)

It was a one-sided game, and of course the Civic Centre crowd of 9,622 favoured the weaker team. The biggest cheer of the afternoon came after Latvia’s lone goal with seven seconds left in the opening period.

At that point Sweden already had a 5-0 lead and 26-0 advantage in shots on goal, so the fans could hardly believe it when Janis Ozolins fed Roberts Jekimovs on a nice two-on-one break to provide Team Latvia with its only happy moment of the game.

Jekimovs had a clear breakaway late in the second period, but he was slashed by Victor Hedman at the decisive moment. The referees’ decision not to award a penalty shot was met with a chorus of boos by the sympathetic crowd.

Tre Kronor set the tone in the first period when they didn’t allow a single shot on backup goalie Mark Owuya for the opening 19:53, while scoring five goals. After Mattias Tedenby got the Swedes ahead at 2:13, we saw the most beautiful goal of the game seven minutes later.

If there ever was a reason to award three assists, Sweden’s 2-0 goal would be it. It featured a splendidly executed quadruple play which was initiated by defenseman Viktor Ekbom and linked between Simon Hjalmarsson and Joakim Andersson before Magnus Svensson-Pääjärvi finished off the play. If there was any justice, Ekbom should have been entitled to an “honourary” assist on this play.

"Our line is playing better and better all the time, and I really enjoy playing with Simon Hjalmarsson and Joakim Andersson," said Svensson-Pääjärvi.

The first period saw Svensson-Pääjärvi (who will probably have to do something with his surname if he is drafted in June) get his second of the game, while Andre Petersson and Nicklas Lasu added to the Latvian misery. All four Swedish first-period scorers recorded their first goal of the championship. Latvian starting goalie Raimonds Ermics had enough after the third goal and was replaced by Nauris Enkuzens.

"It may sound strange, but it was still a difficult game for us," said Svensson-Pääjärvi, who finished the game with four points. "The most difficult thing was to stay focused."

After a calm second period – only Simon Hjalmarsson scored – Sweden erupted with four goals in the last 20 minutes to get into double digits.

Final shots favoured Sweden 61-11. It was an easy night for Swedish backup netminder Mark Owuya.

"The game against Russia will be a totally different story from what we experienced here today," added Svensson-Pääjärvi.

NOTE: These two countries have only met once before in the World Juniors. Sweden defeated Latvia 10-2 in Kamloops in 2006.

(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at fourniern@students.nescom.edu)

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