SPISSKA NOVA VES, SLOVAKIA - APRIL 23: Ivan Drozov #6 of Belarus celebrates with teammates after scoring a first period goal against Latvia during relegation round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Steve Kingsman/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Latvia relegated, Belarus stays in top division
Defenceman Artyom Borshyov assisted on two goals as Belarus beat Latvia 3-1 in the third and deciding game of the relegation series.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Borshyov said after the game. “It’s very cool for us, especially for me because I’m the youngest player on the team. It’ll be a great tournament next year.”
Borshyov is one of four players on the Belarus roster that will be eligible to play in the top division of the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Russia, while Latvia will go down to Division 1, Group A.
“We played really well and it’s a great feeling,” said Belarusian defenceman Vladislav Yeryomenko. “We’re staying in the top division and that was our goal.”
Viktors Jasunovs, a forward for AIK Solna in Sweden, scored the lone Latvian goal. He is one of three players on the team eligible to return next year, so getting demoted is especially devastating for him. However, he declared: “I will do everything in my power to help get this team back into the top division.”
In all three games of this series, it seemed like the team that got off to the faster start was the one in control. After not playing their best game on Friday night, when they had a chance to wrap up the series, the Belarusians weren’t going to let it escape them a second time.
“We played much better today than Friday,” Borshyov figues. “We just played much smarter and made simpler decisions. We played our game and didn’t get away from the plan.”
First period goals from Ivan Drozhdov and Dmitri Deryabin - the latter coming with just 35 seconds on the clock - put Belarus in the driver’s seat and Latvia in a desperate situation.
“We weren’t like a team today,” said Jasunovs. “We played as individuals, not as a team.”
Try as they might, however, Latvia just couldn’t get anything going, as the Belarusian team played tight defensively. Then when Andrei Pavlenko deflected Borshyov’s shot past Niklavs Rauza with exactly 16 minutes to play, it was going to take a miracle for Latvia to win.
“I just put the puck to the net and our offensive player got his stick on it and scored,” Borshyov described. “I’m not usually part of the offence, but today our forwards were really good finishing plays. But I got two assists, so that’s fine,” he smiled.
They did get a goal with 9:27 to play, however. When two penalties gave the Latvians a two-man advantage for 58 seconds, coach Igors Smirnovs pulled Rauza to give his team a 6-on-3 advantage. They moved the puck around nicely and Jasunovs finished off the play to break the shutout.
“I waited for the pass from our defenceman (Renars Karkls) at the side of the net and I scored,” Jasunovs described. “And we got more chances after that but couldn’t score again.”
In fact, Latvia got four power plays in a row in the third period and another 6-on-3 with the goalie pulled. That one goal was all they got from it, however, as Belarus hung on to win.