By Steven Ellis – Eurohockey.com
Using mainly reserve players while the top Latvian stars were away with their usual clubs, the newly-appointed top division squad played a stronger exhibition game on Thursday. Unlike Wednesday’s contest, that saw them show almost strength in a 4-1 loss to Kazakhstan, Latvia forced their opponents into a tough situation in the first period. While no goals were scored, Latvia peppered goaltender Anton Bruyev with chances in the best period of hockey in the exhibition series for the Latvians.
After a good back and forth battle in the second, Latvia appeared to have scored with eight minutes left in the second. Valters Apfelbaums, who had a solid rush early in the first period, kept with a scramble that saw him finally tip the puck over at the last second, but the whistle blew just before due to the refs no longer seeing the puck in the crease.
Latvia finally saw themselves in the lead for the first time in the exhibition series with three minutes to go. Desperate to take the lead, Roberts Štelmahers finally jammed one in past Bruyev to make it 1-0 for the Latvians just prior to heading to the intermission.
At 3:34 of the period, Latvia doubled up their advantage. This time, Eduards Fjodorovs used Eduards Hugo Jansons as a screen in front of the net before firing a hard shot from the point. Bruyev had no chance of keeping the puck out of the net, giving Latvia the 2-0 lead with most of the third period still to play.
Elvis Dins Kalnbērziņš isn’t a favorite to make the World Junior team for Latvia, but he sure helped his case by making it 3-0. Having helped out with Latvia’s second goal just minutes later, Kalnbērziņš put the game out of reach after tapping in the pass from Haralds Štrombergs just eight minutes into the third. Denijs Romanovskis would hold on in Latvia’s net for the shutout, leading his country to a 3-0 victory on Thursday.
Latvia will play Denmark in a pre-tournament game on December 22nd at the Centre Multisport in Châteauguay, Quebec, not far from one of the World Junior locations in Montreal. Latvia will begin their run in the top tournament on December 26th when they start Toronto off with a 3:30 PM start against Team USA.