Swedes squeak past Latvia
Swedes squeak past Latvia
Mitens valiant in net, but can't stop Moverare
Moverare's goal came from a bad angle to the right of Latvian goalie Mareks Mitens. It spoiled an otherwise virtuoso performance between the pipes by Mitens in his U18 debut, reminiscent in a way of what Kristers Gudlevskis did versus Canada in Latvia's 2-1 loss in the 2014 Olympic quarter-final.
"It was really hard and completely painful at the end," said Mitens. "Probably the most painful thing. I’m really tired now. Thanks to our guys – they were battling till the end."
Jesper Bratt, Adam Tilander, and Alexander Nylander also scored for Sweden. Nylander tied the game with just 19 seconds left in regulation.
Of the Latvians, Nylander said: "They were really good at blocking our shots and we didn’t really get our pucks to the net, which probably gave them a little bit of energy. "
Erlends Klavins, Valters Apfelbaums, and Tomass Zeile scored for Latvia, which managed to stay in the game despite its huge territorial disadvantage, and then popped two goals in the third period to pull ahead temporarily.
The Swedes won silver each year from 2010 to 2012. They have never won U18 gold. Latvia finished ninth last year, matching its all-time high from 2010 and 2012.
"We have a system that we play and today it worked out," said top Swedish defenceman Timothy Liljegren. "But I think maybe we should have done more goals. It feels good to get two points."
The blue-and-yellow team got off to a quick start on Friday at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Everything looked fine and dandy early on for coach Torgny Bendelin's crew.
At 1:26, Sweden opened the scoring on a dazzling solo rush by Bratt. After evading the defence and sifting the puck through Mitens’ legs, he twirled his stick in celebration.
At 9:28, Tilander made it 2-0 on the power play, hammering a drive from the right faceoff circle past the goalie’s blocker.
It took Latvia nearly 18 minutes into the first period to register its first shot on goal. Mitens made several fine saves before the buzzer to keep it close.
Mitens foiled Bratt on a Swedish 2-on-1 early in the second period.
Hanging around sometimes pays off. Could the Latvians come back?
On the rush, Pauls Svars fed Klavins and he got his second goal of the tournament with a sweet backhand deke, beating Swedish goalie Filip Larsson to make it 2-1 at 9:06.
With two unassisted goals early in the third period, Latvia shocked the crowd by taking the lead. Just 50 seconds in, Apfelbaums circled to the hash marks and flung a wrister past Larsson's blocker.
"It’s an amazing feeling when we tied the game," said Mitens. "Probably one of the best feelings you can have."
Then Latvia jumped into a 3-2 lead at 3:16. Zeile, the Latvian captain, caught the Swedish defence backing in and scored, once again on the blocker side.
Excited and energized, the Latvians started buzzing the Swedish net. The Swedes called a time out at 7:53 to restrategize.
Larsson made a great left pad save on Emils Ezitis midway through the period to keep it a one-goal game.
The Swedes pulled their netminder with 1:10 left, and it paid off. Nylander one-timed a slap shot from the left faceoff circle to tie it up.
There were marvelous chances to win it in overtime. Nylander put one off the crossbar with Sweden on a 4-on-3 man advantage. On a give-and-go, Renars Krastenbergs missed a wide-open net as he fell to his knees.
Sweden will face the powerhouse Americans on Saturday, while the Latvians get the host nation on Sunday.
"Maybe we came out a little bad in this game, but I think we’ll come out better against the U.S.," said Liljegren.
"We’ll fight till the end," said Mitens. "We don’t have anything to lose."
The only previous World U18 Championship encounter between Sweden and Latvia was on April 15, 2012. Sweden beat Latvia 3-1.
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