The Czech Republic defeated Latvia 4-2 at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Russia this morning. The Czechs have now won two straight games in the tournament after losing on Boxing Day to Sweden 4-1 and defeating Finland 3-1 on Friday night. Latvia failed to win a game during the Group Stage and is now obliged to play in the Relegation Round and fight for its place in next year’s tournament.
Latvia started the game with two early tripping penalties. At the 4:14 mark, Nikita Jevpalovs was sent off the ice, and at the 6:11 mark of the period Kriss Lipsbergs joined Jevpalovs in the penalty box. This gave the Czech Republic a brief 3 second 5-on-3 advantage over Latvia. Although Latvia managed to kill off the two early penalties, the inauspicious start put Latvia on its heels early.
The Czechs opened the scoring shortly after the two early power plays when Petr Beránek took a beautiful pass from Jan Štencel at 9:55. The Latvians collapsed their defense around the front of the net and prevented from adding any more goals during the first period. A certain amount of frustration set in for the Czechs and they followed up on their early lead with two penalties of their own. Jevpalovs redeemed himself by scoring a power play goal for Latvia at 18:33 of the period. Entering the second period, the score sat at 1-1.
“After we got the first goal we took some penalties and let Latvia get back in the game,” Czech forward Martin Frk noted. “They scored and played a very good game.”
The Czechs quickly recovered their lead early in the second period after Latvia committed yet another early penalty, just 36 seconds into the period. At 2:01, Frk scored his first goal of the tournament when he blasted a one-timer from Petr Šidlík past Latvian goaltender Ivars Punnenovs. Eight more penalties followed that early power play but neither team took advantage of their opportunities to add to the score and the second period ended with the Czechs holding a 2-1 lead.
The third period started with another early goal but this time Latvia was the team that scored. Lipsbergs copied Jevpalov’s quest for redemption for his hockey sins by scoring a goal of his own at the 1:59 mark of the third. It was a gutsy goal generated by an effort to crash the Czech net and corral a rebound but it was the last time that the Latvians managed to score on the Czech Republic. At 13:46, Dmitrij Jaškin scored a goal for the Czechs on a delayed penalty call with Czech goaltender Patrik Bartošák on the bench for an extra attacker.
“I just got the puck and made a fake and then took a shot. I was just trying to get it on the net. I was lucky,” Jaskin said.
The delayed penalty was a costly one for the Latvians, and all the more so because its efforts to find an equalizer was hampered by a Too-Many-Men-On-The-Ice penalty assessed to the Latvians with 49 seconds left to play. The Latvians nevertheless pulled Punnenovs in favor of an extra attacker anyways and pressed for a third goal. The ploy backfired when Frk fired the puck the length of the ice into the Latvian net at 19:33 to put the Czechs up 4-2. The Czechs also doubled up Latvia in shots on goal 40-20.
The Czech Republic is next scheduled to play Switzerland on Monday in its last game of the Group Stage. That game takes place at Ice Palace Salavat Yulaev, the host rink for Salavat Yulaev UFA, Russia’s representative in this year’s Spengler Cup. The Czech Republic currently sits in second place in Group A behind Sweden.