by Lisa McRitchie on 01/03/12 at 08:00 PM ET
An even dozen, that’s how many goals Team USA managed to score Tuesday against Latvia, after a lackluster preliminary round for both teams.
For the both teams, this game was as much about pride as it was securing a position in this tournament for next year. Now, Latvia has one more game and nothing to lose.
It was another parade of heads hanging low from the Latvian players and coaching staff. Talking about the game seemed to be salt on the wound.
Although the Latvians did not win, they were not shut out and their battle level didn’t temper off, but rather increased as the game wore on. Latvian goals came in the second and third periods when you would expect the team to be limping through the game.
Not only did the Latvians begin to score, but they held Team USA to only one goal in the third. After allowing 7 in the second that may have been too little too late, but you have to give Latvia credit for giving it all that they had.
Speaking through a translator, Latvian head coach Erik Miluns reflected on the game “Our best period was the third one. Obviously our worst was the second. The US team is a great team; all of the players there are playing in college or major junior so they are great players. They are more skilled than us at this time. They have a good team and it shows on the scoreboard.”
As Miluns only reinforced the idea of disparity in the hockey world we are reminded of just how far behind some countries are falling and how difficult it must be for some smaller budgeted European teams to compete. While the USA, Canada, Russia and Sweden all have extensive junior programs, countries like Latvia are much more limited in terms of funding, coaching staff and even population.
It isn’t over yet for the Latvians with one more game. And coach Miluns has some positive takeaways “I’m proud of the team the way they competed, especially in the third period. The game was gone, but the boys kept competing and working hard.”
For Oilers’ prospect and team captain Kristians Pelss, this game was especially difficult to talk about. Pelss had two assists on the two goals, but “It’s good that I got points now, but it doesn’t matter if we lose.”
Latvia beat Denmark in their pre-tournament game, and Pelss hopes that they can do it again. “I feel we can beat them, but it won’t be an easy game. It will be a very hard game. We need to be good at preparing for this game and hopefully luck will be on our side.”
For the USA, this game meant so much more. They have strong hockey programs, and the NCAA hockey is world renowned. For the USA to be eliminated from medal contention so early is not only a letdown, but it also verges on an embarrassment.
Team USA head coach Dean Blais sees just how important this win against Latvia was for his team and even more so, the Wednesday game against Switzerland. “You always want to win your last team and we have a good opportunity to do that against the Swiss team. Hopefully we’ll gain some respectability out of it after missing out on the medal round.”
The Russians will continue to hold the record for most points in a single game by one player, but Austin Watson of Team USA certainly got close. With 7 points, teammate Nick Bjugstad with 3 goals and 5 points of his own, admitted that the team was trying to get Watson closer to the ultimate 10 point record but the Latvians became much better defencively in the third quelling those hopes and ambitions.
Bjugstad called the victory bittersweet, but emphasized that “We’re happy we won obviously and we’re happy we’re here but its tough not being where we want to be tonight. But we have to keep our heads up high and keep playing hard and have a good game tomorrow.”
Latvia had hoped for so much more than to lose every game, and now they have only one last chance Wednesday morning against Denmark. For the USA, it is much the same, but this victory against Latvia has already helped the team prepare for next year.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
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