Team USA shakes off scrappy Latvian side
By John Sanful
In 2001 in Cologne, Latvia blanked the Americans 2-0, prompting
boisterous fans to go down to the American Embassy in Riga and lay
flowers outside for the fallen American team. But there would be no
eulogies today as Team USA rallied for a 3-1 victory on the strength
of Mark Parrish's game-winner in the third.
Skating with passion and intensity, Latvia played the USA close for
most of the game. There were moments in the first two periods, with
Arturs Irbe stopping a ton of rubber, when it seemed as if the
Latvians would surprise their opponents and come away with two
The Olympiahalle in Innsbruck was filled nearly to capacity--with a
convincing majority of Latvian fans in attendance--as both teams
traded scoring chances in the early going. There was plenty of
cheering, singing, and banging of drums to give the scrappy Baltic
nation an advantage.
Midway through the first period, it was clear the Latvians were
gaining confidence and battling for possession of the puck. On the
power play, the Latvians were impressive with tape-to-tape passes,
including a few down low towards the net. The best chance would come
when Viktor Ignatjevs walked in the left circle for a shot that was
stopped by Ty Conklin.
"We were flat in the first period and there is no excuse for that,"
said Doug Weight.
Janis Sprukts scored the first goal of the game on the power play.
Conklin was called for a delay of game penalty and the Latvians went
to work. Girts Ankipans sent a pass into the slot, where Sprukts
fired it home at 16:17. It was Sprukts' second goal in as many games.
The young forward, who plays for HK Riga 2000, was so excited about
having scored to give his team the lead he could barely contain
Team USA tried to come back with the equalizer but could not solve
Irbe. Yan Stastny attempted to jam it in but Irbe lay on the ice with
the puck securely beneath him.
Latvia would enjoy one more scoring opportunity when Karlis Skrastins
had a clear lane to the net and wired a shot on goal that was kicked
out by Conklin, who ultimately made 16 saves in the game.
The Latvians carried their aggressive play into the second.
Aleksandrs Nizivijs deftly stickhandled towards the net, got Conklin
down, and tried to stuff the puck in the short side. But referee
Vladimir Sindler ruled that it did not cross the goal line. The
Latvians were disappointed because they felt it was a goal, and
because Sindler did not go upstairs for a video review.
"It was a disappointing decision, not so much that there was not a
goal, but the referee did not go to the video replay for it because
usually they always do that," Sprukts said. "If there was no goal, it
was okay, but they should have gone upstairs. It was a tough one for
Team USA shook off the Latvian momentum and began taking some of it
back. Several good chances on offense revived their spirits. Doug
Weight scored at 13:36 on a backhand shot that was chipped into the
net, tying the game at 1-1. Erik Cole collected his third assist of
the tournament on the play.
In the third Mark Parrish scored at 7:44 to give his team their first
lead of the game. After that, it was all Team USA. Whereas the
Latvians controlled the first, the Americans dominated the third,
outshooting their opponents 17-4.
Parrish added another goal--an empty netter--to seal the deal at 3-1.
Weight finished with three points on the night. Irbe made 27 saves
and was named Team Latvia's player of the game.
Latvia now faces Slovenia on Thursday to decide who goes to the
Qualifying Round, while Team USA meets Team Canada in the clash for
the group's top seed.
"It will be a tough game," said Weight. "Any time you play Canada, it
will be a North American-style hockey game. There will be a lot of
hitting, a lot of in-your-face hockey."