The last time Switzerland and Latvia met, it was the heavily favored Swiss who won the game in stunning fashion, scoring with 7 seconds left in regulation and snatching the chance at overtime from Latvia.
Fast forward to the elimination round and Switzerland was once again heavily favored against the Latvians. Going into today’s game, Switzerland was the favorite to potentially upset one of the big three later on in the tournament. A win over Latvia would show that the Swiss hockey program is growing and should be considered among the other hockey super powers.
However, it appears the Swiss once again underestimated their Latvian opponent. Latvia showed up ready to play tough physical hockey and just simply outworked Switzerland. Despite being out shot in all three periods, the Latvians only allowed Switzerland one power play opportunity, which they were able to kill off.
Oskars Bartulis got the Latvians on the board 8 minutes into the first and Lauris Darzins followed with their second goal 3 minutes later. The first period ended with Latvia up 2-0, and the shots relatively even, 11-9 in favor of the Swiss.
Switzerland got a goal back when Martin Pluss scored with five minutes remaining in the second. Latvia was able to hold off the Swiss attack for the rest of the period.
In the waning minutes of the third, Switzerland threw all they had at Latvian goaltender Edgar Masalskis, but he stood strong in the crease. Lauris Darzins iced the game with an empty netter with one minute remaining to score his second goal and give Latvia a 3-1 lead.
Latvia upsetting Switzerland is just about the best thing that could happen for the Olympic tournament. Earlier this morning, I was listening to a Hockey Central and the hosts remarked it was ridiculous that teams like Latvia are still playing. They called these games a waste of time, and that the Olympic tournament should just cut to the chase to Russia, Canada, and the US. It is this type of hockey snobbery that I cannot stand. The Olympics are an opportunity for growing programs to get their shot on the world stage. Is Latvia going to contend for a gold medal? Most likely no. But today’s victory puts their hockey program on the map, which is a good thing for the sport.