Swiss outgun Latvia
Swiss outgun Latvia
Volejnicek gets OT winner for Switzerland
The power play goal came with Latvian captain Tomass Zeile in the penalty box for tripping Swiss star Nico Hischier. Volejnicek cruised into the slot and let one go that squeezed past goalie Gustavs Grigals' blocker side.
Axel Simic scored twice, and Philipp Kurashev and Tobias Geisser also tallied for the Swiss. Nico Hischier added three assists in what was a true see-saw battle.
"We played well, but we took many penalties," said Kurashev. "But we still won, so it’s good."
Renars Krastenbergs had a goal and two assists for Latvia, Erlends Klavins added a goal and an assist, and Vlads Vulkanovs and Emils Ezitis added singles.
Grigals was busier than his Swiss counterpart Matteo Ritz, as Switzerland outshot the Baltic boys 36-20. The gap could have been even higher if not for Latvia's diligent shot-blocking.
"We just have to shoot more on the net," said Latvia's Deniss Smirnovs. "If you don’t take shots, you can’t score."
Swiss head coach Thierry Paterlini emerged victorious in his World U18 debut behind the bench. Paterlini, 40, played at two Olympics, including the historic wins over Canada (2-0) and the Czech Republic (3-2) in Turin 2006. He also suited up at eight top-level IIHF World Championships.
Looking ahead to Switzerland's next game against Russia on Saturday, Paterlini said: "I think we can take a lot out of this game for our system. If we keep on going against the Russians like this, we have a good chance to have another success, which would be very, very nice for us."
In a spirited first period, Latvia drew first blood despite being outshot 13-4. Krastensbergs came down the right side and surprised Ritz with a wrister that beat the goalie on the blocker side at 3:55.
It took just 40 seconds into the second period for the Swiss to tie it up. Simic’s excellent snap shot from the hash marks got under the cross bar.
At 4:05, Switzerland went up 2-1. On the rush, Hischier skimmed a pass right over to Simic and his quick shot beat Grigals.
"We had problems scoring at first, but we started well in the second period, which was important," said Paterlini.
Just 1:42 later, Latvia fought back to even the score. Ritz made a nice pad save on Erlends Klavins but couldn’t stop Vulkanovs, parked in front, on the rebound.
The Latvians had a chance to go ahead as Switzerland took three straight minor penalties, but couldn't capitalize on the power play.
Switzerland regained the lead with 16 seconds left in the middle frame, as Geisser’s low shot to the stick side from the slot found the twine.
But the Latvians showed a never-say-die attitude. At 5:55 of the third period, Ezitis whooshed down right wing and unleashed one that slipped past the Swiss goalie's glove.
At 10:33, Switzerland went back up as Kurashev cruised down the middle and took a pass from Thomas Lust before whipping it high into the net.
Still, coach Eriks Miluns's team refused to wilt.
Latvia made it 4-4 with 5:58 remaining in regulation, as an unguarded Klavins pushed it home on the doorstep. Klavins missed a glorious opportunity for the go-ahead marker with one minute left.
"We didn’t have luck today," said Smirnovs. "It wasn’t our time. That’s it."
The Latvians are right back in action on Friday versus Sweden.
Paterlini was happy with the way his Swiss team handled the opener overall: "For them, it’s quite big to be here in this nice, big arena. It was the first game of the tournament, so we coaches had to calm them down a little bit to make sure their emotions didn’t go too high or too low. It’s important to find a good balance."
It was the third World U18 meeting of all time between these two nations. In 2012, Latvia beat Switzerland 4-2. The Swiss won 3-2 in overtime in 2015 to send the Latvians to the relegation round.
Local schoolchildren, many of them colourfully attired in neon green, enlivened the proceedings with their vigorous cheering in the lower bowl at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
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