Switzerland Defeats Latvia With Seconds Remaining

Men’s Hockey in the 2014 Olympics began this afternoon (12:00 ET, 9:00 Russian Time). One of the two matchups included Team Switzerland and Team Latvia.

Team Latvia had finished dead last in the last two Olympic Games, so expectations were low coming into the first game.

On paper, the matchup seems one-sided in favor of the Swiss. They have eight current NHLers and four former NHLers, while the Latvians have just one current and seven former NHLers.

Many people were probably surprised to see former NHL defenseman and Stanley Cup winner Sandis Ozolins, who is 41 and still going strong, playing for Team Latvia. He’s actually the team captain as well.

It took a while for the Swiss to find any chemistry in the game, while the Latvians found it early. The reason being that eight Latvian players currently play for Dinamo Riga of the KHL.

Once Switzerland found their chemistry, they had to solve 33-year old goaltender Edgars Masalskis, who is playing in his third Olympic Games. In 2010, Masalskis faced an average of 43 shots per game, stopping 47 of 50 in a playoff game against the Czech Republic, so he’s used to carrying the workload. His 0-6 record isn’t indicative of how he plays.

Forwards Roman Wick and Damien Brunner were on the same wavelength for most of the game, with one setting up numerous one-time chances for the other. However, neither could put it past the Latvian netminder.

Masalskis took a beating during the contest, physically. In the first period he took an accidental knee to the head that knocked his mask off. Later in the first, a Swiss player fired a puck right off his mask. In the third period, the trainers needed to bring out the smelling salts after Edgars apparently caught a puck on his collarbone. Some of you may remember that Masalskis took a puck off the collarbone in the 2010 playoff game against the Czech Republic as well. He was treated with a painkilling spray and finished the game.

At the end of one period, the Swiss led 12-6 shots and 11-5 in the faceoff circle, not to mention their time of possession. The young players skated circles around the Latvians. However, where Latvia lacks in speed, they more than compensate in hitting. Led by Ozolins, who dished out numerous checks, his teammates followed suit.

There was some confusion late in the second period, when Ozolins was caught cross-checking, play continued with Latvia retaining possession of the puck for about five seconds, with Masalskis even leaving the net, thinking it was a Swiss penalty.

At the end of two periods, Latvia had blocked 13 shots compared to Switzerland’s 5. Their defense was solid throughout the contest, stifling any scoring chances the Swiss players generated.

Luca Cunti nearly broke the scoreless tie approximately three and a half minutes into the third stanza, but was denied at point-blank range by the stretching glove hand of Masalskis.

It appeared that the game was destined to overtime, a sight not often seen in the Olympics. In fact, the last time an Olympic game ended 0-0 was in 1948, when Team Canada and Team Czech Republic could not find the back of the net (there was no overtime period).

The Swiss would not settle for OT though. Simon Moser (Nashville Predators/Milwaukee Admirals) took advantage of a defensive lapse by Latvia. He busted through the neutral zone with teammate Nino Niederreiter there for support. Moser threw the puck on net from a bad angle and it deflected off Latvian defenseman Georgijs Pujacs and in. The scoreboard showed 7.9 seconds remaining in the game. Talk about a dramatic finish.

In total, the Swiss team fired 39 shots at Masalskis (.974 SP) while Jonas Hiller (Anaheim Ducks) faced just 21 in the shutout victory. Hiller went 2-3 in Vancouver (2010) with a save-percentage of .918. He led Team Switzerland to the Quarter-Finals, where he stopped 42 of 43 shots (.977) in a 2-0 loss to Team USA.

The Swiss are set to take on Team Sweden this Friday at 7:30 AM ET. The game will be broadcast on the NBCSN (U.S.) and TSN (Canada).

Follow me on Twitter @yungspork

Kevin Sporka

Kevin Sporka

Kevin Sporka is the Senior Media Analyst and Detroit Red Wings beat writer at HOHM. He is also the author of the Fantasy Hockey Fridays, In Retrospect, Milestone Monday, and Legends By the Number segments.
Kevin Sporka

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