POPRAD, SLOVAKIA - APRIL 15: Slovakia's Martin Fehervary #6 celebrates after scoring against Latvia in the third period during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Latvia loses, 4-0, headed to relegation
Slovakia broke open a close game with two goals in a dominant second period en route to a huge win against Latvia in Poprad tonight.
Goaltender Jakub Kostelny wasn't particularly busy, stopping just 15 shots for the shutout.
The win gives Slovakia four points in Group A standings while winless Latvia has zero. Slovakia plays Switzerland tomorrow and can move up to third place with a win.
"We were a bit nervous befor the game," admitted Adam Ruzicka, one of the goalscorers tonight. "The crowd is crazy! It's ridiculous! But they're supporting us, which is great. Once we scored the first two goals, we felt much better. We just have to keep going and win every game now. That's our goal."
The Latvians will play in the best-of-three relegation against Belarus starting Thursday. They have scored only three goals in four games and surrendered 19.
"You can't win if you can't score," lamented captain Deniss Smirnovs. "Now we have to get ready for Belarus. It's going to be a tough series."
Both teams stared out cautious in the early going, but Slovakia got the only goal of the first on a goal by Matus Havrila. Patrik Hrehorcak barreled down the right wing and chipped a pass in front. Goaltender Janis Voris got his stick on it, but the puck fell to Havrila, who nudged it in at 17:05.
Latvia had an early power play in the second but couldn’t do much with it, and after that the Slovaks dominated. Voris was excellent in the Latvian goal, but he couldn’t stop them all.
The Slovaks, boosted by another impressive home crowd, made it 2-0 at 6:47 courtesy of a great snap shot from Ruzicka from the right faceoff dot.
"I pracise that every day," he explained. "I saw the open lane and took a shot. And it went in!"
And the pressure continued. The Latvians were left scrambling in their own end shift after shift, and the hosts were rewarded with another goal at 11:05. On this, Milos Roman connected with a loose puck in front.
"After the first period, we just talked about staying calm," Ruzicka added. "We just wanted to play hockey and focus on scoring goals."
Martin Fehevary added an insurance goal early in the third on a power play, much to the delight of the celebrating fans who chanted and drummed their way merrily through the final 20 minutes.