Latvia to remain in top division at World Under-18 Hockey Championship; Germany relegated

2015u18

Game two of the relegation round against Latvia was a do-or-die situation for German.

And Germany started the game off playing as if it was well aware of that. Not unlike the day before, Germany jumped out to a quick 1-0 goal on the strength of a Christoph Korner shot after just 16 seconds of play. Latvian goalie Mareks Mitens was clearly fooled by the attempt so early in the game.

But this set the tone for Germany, which – unlike in the first game – was able to hold the 1-0 lead for a good portion of the first period, a period that saw both teams ready for a back and forth game with plenty of rough stuff. Only one power play came of it all, as the referees appeared very ready to let the two teams duke it out on the ice. Latvia was not however able to make use of the opportunity.

The next power play for Latvia came with just under two minutes to go in the first period, but it was Germany that got the best opportunity, going in for a 2-on-1 break that saw Mitens stop the shot and keep his team from digging a deeper hole. The period ended with a 4-on-4 situation.

That eventually turned into a 5-on-4 in the second period and Germany managed to create three very solid chances that required Mitens to be at his wits. Which he was until Germany received another power play four minutes into the period. Creative passes between Simon Schutz and Tim Bernhardt were then turned into a goal, as Germany’s youngest sniper Tobias Eder fired a bullet into the top corner of the net from in the slot for his third goal of the tournament.

The 2-0 held only for a few minutes as at the 13:02 mark, after Latvia had raised the intensity and its skating propensity, Martins Dzierkals scored his third goal and ninth point of the tournament. Aside from cutting the German lead in one, and getting Latvia back into the game, the goal led to an increase in skating and hitting coming from both teams, which eventually allowed Latvia to create not one, but two very dangerous scoring chances. One by Filips Buncis went wide of the goal on a flubbed shot. The other from Dzierkals was eaten up by German goalie Patrick Berger.

Shortly thereafter, Germany received a power play on a Delay of Game call and proceeded to establish its largest flurry of sustained pressure, not only in the game, but in the entire tournament. It did not however lead to a goal, despite a close crossbar shot by Maximilian Daubner.

One shift later, a defensive breakdown caused by an untimely decision by Germany’s defenseman saw Latvia march into the German zone on a 3-on-1, which turned into a 2-on-0 right in front of the German goal. Berger was helpless in stopping a shot off a last second pass by Kristians Rubins to Buncis after having himself received a lovely pass from Rudolfs Balcers. For Balcers, it was his 2nd assist of the game and sixth point of the tournament.

The game continued to be chippy and aside from one more huge save by Berger when Eduards Tralmaks walked in on the goal from the right side and fired a wrist shot, the chances were at a minimum.

What happened in the third period had to have true hockey fans licking their chops. It was back and forth, aggressive play after aggressive play. Two and half minutes in, winger Eder charged into the Latvian zone and was crushed with a hip check. Barely able to move, he crawled back to the bench favoring one leg. In this time, Germany was effectively shorthanded for a broken Latvian rush that nonetheless led to a goalmouth scramble that saw Ricards Bernhards tap in a loose puck.

Not two whole minutes later, Germany was on a power play and while Eder was aided to the locker room, only able to stand on one leg, the Latvians charged into the German zone shorthanded on what ended up being a short 2-on-1 in front of the net. Eriks Zohovs grabbed a loose puck and quickly wristed in his second of the day giving Latvia a 4-2 lead with 16:47 left to play.

Germany took a much needed time out, but as the period continued to dwindle down and Germany was unable to create any real pressure, the frustration grew. Tim Bernhardt took a 2+10 minute penalty with less than 10 minutes to go, effectively ending his third period play. The Germans then bit and fought their way through the shorthanded situation. And this then proved to have paid off.

With the next rush, defenseman Lukas Kalble got the puck at the point and fired a wrist shot that was block, but landed right on the stick of Julian Napravnik, who immediately fired the puck into the goal under Mitens leg, bringing the Germans within one with 8:17 to go in the third.

With a new lease on life, the Germans launched a massive attack, firing every possible puck on goal. This led to a power play opportunity with just four minutes to play. Not able to gain their way into the zone, a tired group left Berger alone with the puck, who made a somewhat poor decision sending the puck along the boards right to a Latvian who pushed the puck towards forward Zohovs, who chipped the puck over Berger’s shoulder. This gave Latvia a 5-3 lead.

Just as he shot the puck, Zohovs was levelled by Simon Schutz and remained on the ice unable to move. Eventually he did get up and Schutz was assessed a penalty for charge, although the check appeared to be just the result of a normal collision.

Nothing came of the power play and Germany pulled its goalie for the final 37 seconds of the game, but to no avail. For the second day in a row, Germany lost 5-3 in the relegation round. As the game concluded, the Latvians stormed the ice and their goalie, clearly elated with their hard-earned achievement.

With that, Latvia has successfully achieved class retention and will return to play in the world’s top group next spring.

“It was our chief goal to stay in this class. We’ve now achieved that goal. We are so happy and I am so proud of these boys. We had some tough bounces along the way, like against Switzerland. Maybe if we would have had more luck, like with power plays, or had not taken that penalty in overtime against Switzerland, things could have been different. We were very close to avoiding the relegation round. For Latvians back home, everyone, this is big. Parents, players, children – this is a big achievement for Latvian hockey, and thus, for the country of Latvia. Now we have to stick here for several years in a row and keep developing. Then this team will really get some attention”, explained Latvian coach Miluns Eriks.

The calendar year of 2015 hasn’t been difficult for the German Ice Hockey Federation. The U18 team follows the U20 and women’s national teams in leaving A Group play.

German coach Jim Setters had some thoughts on the Latvian opponents, but also on the state of the German program and what this means for a country that also saw its U20 and women’s teams relegated this season, “Latvia deserved this. They were good. They have some good hockey players, some with really good speed. Their best players were better than our best players. They scored two shorthanded goals. We, Team Germany, are technically the weakest team at this tournament. That is a fact. We now have to get better. And it starts with our kids. We have to teach them better. With the results this year thus far, hopefully peopel will start to wake up.”

Germany has spent now less than five straight years in the top class of the U18 World Championships. They will now be replaced by Denmark, a nation they defeated in last spring’s relegation round.

U18 action continues tomorrow in Zug with the semifinal games USA versus Canada and Finland versus Switzerland.

Source: Chapin Landvogt – u18worlds2015.iihf.com

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