SASKATOON – Be nice to your brothers. The Czechs followed that maxim in Sunday's early World Junior action, saving both themselves and Slovakia from relegation by outgunning Latvia 10-2. As a result, both Latvia and Austria will go down to Division I for 2011.
Czech Republic – Latvia 10-2 (5-0, 2-2, 3-0)
The Czech-Slovak game on Monday will therefore be for seventh place and bragging rights. (Formerly known as Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia split into separate nations in 1993, and enjoy an ongoing rivalry.)
"We hoped we were going to make the playoffs this year, but we had some problems, like against Team Finland when we were up 3-0 and lost the game," Czech forward Tomas Vincour. "It's good we won this game and made sure our young guys can play again in the top division next year."
Meanwhile, the closing Relegation Round encounter between winless Latvia and Austria will be all about pride and trying not to finish last.
“From one point of view, this was the worst experience in my life,” said Latvian defenceman Rolands Gritans. “We lost too many games by a large margin. I’m ashamed about the scores. From the other sid,e it was a good experience because the organizers were great, the hotel and everything was amazing. Unfortunately, we made so many mistakes in our games. It was awful."
The outmatched Latvians are witnessing the end of their two-year stint in the top division. Austria has never managed to stay up at this level, getting relegated in both previous appearances (1981, 2004) without a single victory.
Germany (seeded ninth) and Norway (seeded tenth) will participate in the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo.
The result of this game was never in doubt, as the Czechs jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first period. They outshot Latvia 42-16, and Tomas Knotek earned a hat trick.
"We played good and hard," said Czech forward Jan Kana. "Our goalie made some good saves, too, when Latvia pressed us."
Just 2:29 in, the Czechs made it 1-0 when Knotek was left alone in front of Latvian starter Raimonds Ermics to swat the puck high into the net. David Ostrizek put his country up 2-0 a minute later when his left-wing slapshot beat Ermics cleanly.
The Latvians called a timeout to regroup, and replaced Ermics in goal with Janis Kalnins. It didn't make much difference, as Stepan Novotny tapped in a power play goal with 5:16 left in the period to give the Czechs a three-goal lead. Michael Poletin and Jan Kana popped in two more goals before the siren to put the game out of reach.
Towels waved and cheers erupted from the crowd of 8,294 when Latvia's Raimonds Vilkoits came down right wing and beat Czech netminder Jakub Sedlacek five-hole at 2:57 of the middle frame.
Knotek notched his second tally of the afternoon less than three minutes later, just after coming out of the penalty box for knocking over the Latvian goalie. Next, Vilkoits got his second goal, finishing off an odd-man rush at 13:23. At 18:18, Robert Kousal shoveled in a puck in the goal crease to make it 7-2 shorthanded for the Czechs.
In the third period, power play goals by Jakub Jeracek, Tomas Kubalik and Knotek completed the Czech rout at 10-2. Kalnins got a round of applause for foiling Kubalik on a penalty shot with less than 10 minutes to go.
Looking ahead to his team's tournament-closer, Kana said: "Slovakia is on the same level as us, and it'll be easy for both teams to get ready for that game."
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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