CIVIC CENTRE – It seems Latvia saved its best hockey for its most important games. After going winless in the preliminary round, the Latvians earned a critical win in the first game of the relegation round with a 7-1 rout of Germany.
Germany – Latvia 1-7 (1-1, 0-5, 0-1)
The win keeps alive Latvia’s hopes of staving off relegation. Meanwhile, Germany has put itself in a must-win situation in its final relegation round game against Finland.
Latvia exploded for five goals in the second period to break the game open. Four goals came in a span of 4:05, crushing the German morale. Roberts Bukarts was the man of the hour for Latvia, netting a hat trick in the game.
Germany, the favorite entering the game, was clearly full of nerves, taking penalties early. Daniel Weiss gave the Germans a 1-0 lead 7:06 into the game, but less than 30 seconds later, Bukarts had the answer, tying the game at one.
Things settled down for the rest of the period and didn’t heat up until Bukarts struck for his second goal 5:23 into the second period. The goal sparked the Latvian offense to life as Janis Straupe made it 3-1 just 2:33 later. Just over a minute later, Bukarts completed his hat trick to give Latvia a three-goal lead.
In an odd twist, Bukarts’ third goal prompted Latvian back-up goaltender Raimonds Ermics to toss his baseball hat on the ice in the traditional salute for a third goal, which earned Ermics two minutes and a game misconduct for tossing an object on the ice.
While the referees were sorting out the Ermics penalty, the Germans decided it would be a good time to pull goalkeeper Philipp Grubauer in favour of Timo Pielmeier. Pielmeier’s luck held out for just 31 seconds before he surrendered his first goal, a shorthanded tally by Vitalijs Pavlovs. The Latvians put in one final goal for good measure to close the period with an unlikely 6-1 lead.
Latvia’s Ronalds Cinks closed the scoring with the only goal of the third period, bringing the final to 7-1 in a chippy third period that saw the Germans take a handful of penalties out of frustration in the last five minutes.
Latvia is still not completely safe from relegation, but the three points from today’s win are a big step in the right direction toward staying in the top division. One thing is certain: the final day of relegation round action will be action-packed as today’s result now forces both teams to come up with victories in their last games of the championship to stay among the world’s elite.
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)