The Finnish goalie Joonas Korpisalo outdueled his Latvian counterpart Elvis Merzlikins as Finland outshot Latvia 44-12.
“I think we played well, but the reason we lost this game is we took too many penalties,” said Latvian forward Roberts Lipsbergs.
Although Finland hasn’t taken a medal at the World Juniors since 2006’s bronze in Vancouver, they have been impressive through their first 2 exhibition games with wins over Team Canada and USA respectively up to this point.
It took only 1:54 for Finland to open the scoring, as Lehkonen rushed to the net and tipped in a Ville Pokka feed to the front.
The Latvians drew even not too long after at 8:25 when Jelisejevs swatted the puck past Korpisalo during a goalmouth scramble.
However not too long after at 12:23, the Finns made it 2-1 on a sweet Aaltonen tip off Ristolainen’s blueline shot. Then again just over three minutes later, working with the man advantage, Aaltonen capitalized on a sneaky behind-the-net feed from Joel Armia, beating Merzlikins on the doorstep for a 3-1 lead.
The Latvians would go scoreless for the remainder of the game with the second period seeing both teams parading to the penalty box and the Fins notching up 2 more goals to close it out 5-1.
Perhaps the bigger issue for Latvia is they are without forward Zemgus Girgensons, who led his country with two goals at last year’s tournament. A 2012 first-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres (14th overall), he was not released by their AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans, to participate in Ufa.
On Thursday, the Latvians have a possible must-win game against fellow underdog Switzerland with puck drop to take place at 7am ET.
“Tomorrow is the most important game in this tournament,” said Lipsbergs. “We need to play like we did today, not take too many penalties, and then we’ll see.”
It’s going to be a tough game for the Latvians to come out with a W against the Swiss, especially with very little rest and having to play back to back days.
Stay tuned as we continue coverage of the 2013 WJC here at Hooked on Hockey Magazine throughout the tournament.