Canada had enjoyed success at the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship, scoring 10 goals over two wins to start the match, including one victory over a strong Russian squad.
On Thursday, they faced off against the team from Latvia that many expected would occupy the fifth and final spot in Group B when the preliminary round came to a close.
It seems that Canada expected them to play like a last-place team when the game began, and were surprised when their opposition got off to a hot start. Latvia put several shots on goal in the beginning, holding a 5-2 edge in shots at the four-minute mark.
A push by Canada to turn momentum was a bit too vigorous, as Dillon Dubé ended up colliding with goaltender Mareks Mitens in the crease, sending Latvia to the power play and giving them a chance to capitalize on their good start. They kept up their pace, getting set up and firing a few shots on Carter Hart, but unfortunately for them, their momentum was halted as play was stopped to deal with an injury to an official. The Canadians used the break to find their footing, easily killing off the remaining seconds of the man disadvantage.
Latvia got another chance minutes later, this time with a 4-on-3, but an ill-timed line change as they attempted to switch up the units allowed Mathew Barzal to break away short-handed, and made the Latvians pay for the mistake.
With momentum now in favour of the home side, Canada earned its first power play of the night seconds after opening the scoring, and they quickly extended the lead to two. A good effort by Nicolas Roy to maintain his position in front of the Latvian goal was rewarded when he got the tip on a point shot that got past Mitens.
With time winding down, Taylor Raddysh converted on another power play in what was a penalty-filled opening 20 minutes. A cross-ice pass forced Mitens to move across the crease, and he couldn’t get set in time to prevent Canada from scoring a third goal.
It was a decent period from Team Latvia, probably their best of the tournament so far, and they deserved better than to head to the dressing room with a three-goal deficit.
Canada outshot in a period for the first time in the 2017 #WorldJuniors. By Latvia!— Gord Miller (@GMillerTSN) December 30, 2016
The discipline in the second period was no better, with the parade to penalty box placing one team on the power play for the majority of opening six minutes. Latvia had the most odd-man opportunies, and maintained their level of play to pepper Hart with shots, but couldn’t get the quality setup to create truly top-notch chance to convert that pressure into a goal.
It only took Canada one chance to score their fourth goal, as Raddysh scored his second in succession around the midway mark of the second to make it a virtually insurmountable lead for the hard-luck Latvians.
That prompted the removal of Mitens from the Latvian goal, in an attempt to leave some in the tank of the starter for a critical matchup with Slovakia on Friday. Gustavs Grigals took over between the piper for the second half of the contest.
Unfortunately, the goalie switch didn’t help Latvia’s chances in this game, as the second shot Grigals faced beat him for the fifth goal. It came off a Raddysh shot, completing a natural hat trick for the Canadian forward.
Barzal became the second player with a multi-goal game moments later. Anthony Cirelli joined the fun on the next shot. Michael McLeod, getting a chance to play on the top line after an injury to Mitchell Stevens in the previous game, pounced on a rebound and carried it across the crease to make it an 8-0 game.
The Latvians finally got a reward for what had been a decent effort on their part. With Canada on a late power play, and perhaps a bit too concerned with scoring another goal, they gave up a 2-on-0 break short-handed, and Renars Krastenbergs decided to shoot rather than pass, putting his side on the scoreboard.
A few minutes into the third period, Raddysh once again hit the scoresheet, this time tipping a shot from his position right in front of the net for his fourth of the game.
The Latvians got a bit of consolation later in the frame, as Martins Dzierkals raced up the ice on a breakaway and beat Hart for his team’s second goal.
Julien Gauthier scored one more for Canada to put double digits on their side of the scoreboard.
That proved to be the final scoring play in the contest, as Canada claimed the 10-2 victory, and moved to 3-0 on the tournament, with 20 goals scored and just five allowed.
Canada wraps up its group-stage play with a New Year’s Eve matchup versus Team USA, in a battle of undefeated teams for the top spot in Group B. At the opposite end of the spectrum will be Team Latvia, who will be battling with Slovakia on Friday in a desperate attempt to avoid the relegation round. Despite what the scoreboard suggested, Latvia played a good game versus Canada, and a similar effort tomorrow should be enough to get the win and allow the team to stay in the Top Division for next year’s tournament.