In the opening game for Group B at this year’s World Junior Hockey Championship, the newly promoted Latvian squad clashed with last year’s bronze medalists, Team USA. The talent levels are obviously on opposite ends of the spectrum for this game, with the Americans being a medal favorite, and Latvia hoping to not be relegated.
Despite a slow start to the first period, the Americans owned the flow of play, holding the Latvians without a shot until the halfway mark of the period. However, as expected, the US broke through Mareks Mitens’ defences following a power-play opportunity. Patrick Harper collected a puck in the offensive zone, found his way into the slot and wired one past the Latvian netminder.
Even with the Americans owning the shot count, it would be Renars Krastenbergs who tied the game. He hopped on the ice following a line change behind the American defence, broke in alone, and tucked a puck past Tyler Parsons.
Latvia! Krastenbergs ties the game. pic.twitter.com/pwK4wWLyde— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) December 26, 2016
While the Americans dominated the first period, the Latvian side put the US on their heels to start the second. In the opening six minutes the US side allowed a breakaway, a 2-on-1, and a 3-on-1, which was not what a contender wants to see happen against an inferior opponent. Latvia had a massive opportunity to level the game in the second with a 5-on-3 power play, however they were unable to convert.
The Americans took advantage of Latvia’s failure to convert on the man advantage. Team USA regained their lead when Adam Fox shot a perfect pass to Tage Thompson, who set up Colin White, who in turn put it top shelf past Mitens.
Colin White (OTT) goes bardown after a sweet dish from Tage Thompson (STL) pic.twitter.com/uMlee9h7Ng— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) December 26, 2016
The US would add to their lead with some hard work around the net by Thompson, White and Clayton Keller, the latter flipping the puck past Mitens to give the Americans a 3-1 lead.
The final period started off poorly for the United States, as they took another penalty, sending Latvia to their fifth power play of the game. The Latvians, however, could not convert, mustering only a single shot on the man advantage. Soon after it was the United States’ turn on the power play, and despite having a 5-on-3 of their own, they failed to get the puck past Mitens.
It would be Clayton Keller who put the US up by three goals, when he let a wrist shot loose from the top of the circle and past the Latvian goalie. Toronto prospect Jeremy Bracco put the nail in the coffin, as he slid the puck five-hole on Mitens on the power play, giving the Americans a 5-1 lead late in the third period.
Chad Greenway piled on a fifth straight goal for Team USA, with just 39 seconds left on the clock and sending the game to a final 6-1 scoreline.
Clayton Keller steals and snipes for his second goal of the game pic.twitter.com/c1Aynv34h3— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) December 26, 2016
Renars Krastenberg was named player of the game for Latvia, while Jordan Greenway collected the honours for Team USA.
The story of this game comes down to Latvia being unable to convert on their power-play chances. The United States gave them six tries to create some offence with a player in the penalty box. In response, the Latvian team managed only two shots on net, which isn’t nearly enough to try and topple a strong American side.
While the score was fairly one-sided, there is plenty to be critical of in the Americans’ victory. They started the game very slowly, and gave up a number of odd-man rushes that put Parsons to the test. Perhaps the biggest concern is the lack of discipline from Team USA. Giving up six power plays to Latvia is not how the team wanted to start, and things could have been a lot worse had they converted any of them. Giving up that many chances to a team like Canada or Russia is a recipe for disaster, and in the past has been the undoing of American gold medal aspirations.
The Americans will be back in action against the Slovaks on Wednesday, December 28th, while Latvia will clash with Russia on Tuesday, December 27th.