Day: May 28, 2023

Canada rallies to win gold

Canada overcame 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to claim their second gold medal in three years with a 5-2 win over Germany

By Andrew Podnieks –

Patient and calm, Canada scored the only three goals of the third period to break a 2-2 tie and claim their second gold medal in three years, defeating Germany, 5-2, in the final game of the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

Samuel Blais made it 3-2 at 4:51 of the third, backhanding a rebound from in close, and Tyler Toffoli made it 4-2 on a 2-on-1, beating Mathias Niederberger five-hole for the insurance goal. Scott Laughton added an empty netter to seal the deal.

Blais’ goal, his second of the night and sixth of the tournament, was the result of a turnover by Maksymilian Szuber, who was stripped of the puck by Cody Glass behind the Germany goal. Glass tried a wraparound, and Blais took care of the rebound.

Toffoli’s goal was the result of another German error, this by Marcel Noebels, who moved into the slot in Canada’s end only to fan on a great scoring chance that might have tied the game. Instead, Toffoli claimed the lose puck and went up ice to score.

“It’s the team that wins, said assistant captain Milan Lucic, playing in his firstt World Championship. “We had a really good team that came together, and that’s why we’re champions. I always believed in this group. I think that was a big part of us winning the gold medal. Anytime Canada is in a tournament, we expect to win gold, Canadians expect us to win gold, so it’s nice to bring another championship home. The people of Canada really love and appreciate it.”

“I think we can be so proud of what we did here as Germans, after coming in here, losing the first three games,” said JJ Peterka. “And then with our backs to the wall, having a do-or-die game every game and coming together like that. Coming back late in the third against the U.S. just showed how much how much we wanted it. And today we wanted to [do it again], but sometimes it doesn’t happen. We were just so close. We were in the game in the third period. I think at the end, little mistakes kind of like cost us the game. Canada is too good. They took advantage of that and scored two goals.”

Canada has now been in 13 of the last 21 gold-medal games, winning seven, and has earned a medal in each of the last four years (two gold, two silver). In all, this is gold number 22 in the stand-alone World Championship history.

Today’s win was espeically notable for 18-year-old Adam Fantilli, who becomes just the second Canadian and 11th player to win World Junior gold and World Championship gold in the same season.

For Germany, the loss is a bitter pill to swallow, but the silver medal is their first at the World Championship since 1953 (when only three teams competed). In all, Germany has now won three silver medals (1930, 1953, 2023) and one bronze (1934), so this year’s achievement is nothing short of extraordinary.

“It’s something I can’t really describe right now,” said MacKenzie Weegar, the tournament’s leading scorer among defenders. “I’m just trying to take it all in at the moment. But right from training camp in Budapest, to Riga, to here it’s just been a really surreal experience and it’s all worth it with a gold medal around my neck. There were lots of bumps. Slovakia in OT, we lost to the Swiss, we lost to Norway. We had to come together and learn as a team. We stuck with it, we learned from our mistakes and we came out on top.”

Germany had the better start right from the opening faceoff, showing more interested in getting the puck deep and chasing it down. Canada looked tentative and unsure, and didn’t look particularly intent in playing in the offensive end. Slowly but surely, though, the game opened, and Germany struck first. 

Moritz Seider fired a long pass to JJ Peterka at the Canada blue line. He brought the puck under control and went in alone, snapping a shot under the glove on Samuel Montembeault at 7:44 to make it 1-0. Canada coach Andre Tourigny’s staff thought the play might have been offside and requested a coach’s challenge, thinking Peterka’s skates were inside the blue line as he tried to control the puck, which was right on the line. The video review favoured Germany, and Canada had to play a man down as well.

They weathered that storm and tied the game soon after off the rush. Jake Neighours made a pass in centre ice that hit a skate and bounced fortuitously to Peyton Krebs, and he went in on a 2-on-1 with Blais, who wired a shot high over Niederberger’s shoulder after getting the perfect feed from Krebs at 10:47.

Play turned tepid as the second period began as teams didn’t want to open up and leave themselves vulnerable. It became apparent this was going to be a low-scoring game, and goals would be hard to come by. Germany took the lead at 13:47 on a weird play. They tried to clear the puck in deep from centre but it hit a player at the blue line, then hit another man in front after an errant pass. But then it landed on the stick of Daniel Fischbuch, and he beat Montembeault before anyone knew what had happened.

But as in the first, Canada didn’t panic and tied the score less than four minutes later, on the power play. It was Krebs again who was the set-up man, this time finding Lawson Crouse in front, inside Germany’s defensive box. Crouse just redirected Krebs’s pass past Niederberger’s glove at 17:28.

In the third, it was all Canada, looking poised and confident, their experience in pressure games evident. It seemed just a matter of time before they would go ahead, and Blais provided the gold-medal-winning goal in due course.

Even at the end, when coach Harold Kreis pulled Niederberger for a sixth skater with 3:21 to play, Canada never looked like they would surrender the lead, and at 18:06 Laughton hit the empty net to start Canada’s celebrations early.

“I think it was an even fight, and if we learn from our mistakes, I think we’ll be in a good position in the upcoming years,” said Moritz Seider, the team’s young star on the blue line. “We haven’t done this in 70 years, so nobody can take that away from us. We made history today. The team made history, and I’m really proud of every one of us.”

Latvia wins historic bronze in OT

The Latvian team rejoices after a 4-3 overtime win over the U.S. in the bronze medal game of the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, Finland – Latvia.

By Lucas Aykroyd –

Kristians Rubins scored the late equalizer and the sudden-death winner at 1:22 as Latvia rallied to stun the U.S. 4-3 for the bronze medal at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, Finland – Latvia. It’s the small Baltic nation’s first IIHF medal ever.

“For the big teams like Canada, this is what they do,” said an ecstatic Miks Indrasis. “They win medals all the time. But for us, it’s like a one-time opportunity. This is unreal.”

In overtime, Latvian captain Kaspar Daugavins carried the puck into the U.S. zone and put a backhanded pass off defenceman Lane Hutson’s skate. The puck came to Rubins and he wired it high for a goal that will never be forgotten.

The Latvian party in Tampere is on, and the party in Riga may never end.

“I’m lucky that I’m a hockey player in Latvia because the people there love hockey so much,” said Martins Dzierkals. “To be a hockey player at this time, I have no words.”

Buoyed by incredible fan support at Nokia Arena on Sunday, the Latvians wanted this historic bronze badly. They played with heart and desperation, taking two first-period leads and then tying it up with under six minutes left in regulation time.

The challenge for the Americans was to get up emotionally after failing to end their 90-year Ice Hockey World Championship gold medal drought. The tournament’s highest-scoring team played hard all night, but fell short. It’s a disappointing outcome after going unbeaten in their first eight games.

“Hockey’s a game of inches,” said U.S. assistant captain Alex Tuch. “Anyone can be beaten on any given day and Latvia got it today and they beat us.”

Both sides were coming off tough semi-final losses. The Latvians led Canada 2-1 through 40 minutes, but fell 4-2. The U.S. faced even greater heartbreak, leading Germany 3-2 with under two minutes left but losing 4-3 in sudden-death overtime.

The U.S.’s Rocco Grimaldi stepped up with two goals in the bronze battle. Grimaldi also scored twice when the U.S. beat Sweden 3-1 in the 2013 World Junior final, the 30-year-old forward’s last IIHF experience.

“You could see what this means to them,” Grimaldi said of Latvia. “I think they probably wanted it little more than we did. We said after the first period, we have to want it as much as they do because they’re playing like it was for a gold medal, not just a bronze. I don’t think we matched their intensity for the full 60.”

It was a fine goaltending showdown between Casey DeSmith and Arturs Silovs. The Latvian workhorse played in all 10 of his team’s games and carried his team to the medals day.

The U.S. outshot Latvia 29-25.

This result is Latvia’s best by a country mile. It’s the first time they’ve ever even played for an IIHF medal. Previously at the Ice Hockey World Championships, they peaked at seventh place in their 1997 debut (Finland), as well as in 2004 (Czechia) and 2009 (Switzerland).

From puck drop, the vibe was jacked up with 11,033 spectators going wild.

As the Latvian fans chanted thunderously and pounded drums, the Americans came out hard and physical. The diminutive Grimaldi nearly knocked Rodrigo Abols into the U.S. bench and Conor Garland laid a glancing hit on Rihards Bukarts that left the veteran forward clutching his face in pain.

On the first power play, Latvia opened the scoring at 7:49 with magic from the Bukarts brothers. Rihards, who’d finish with three assists, slipped the puck cross-crease from the goal line and Roberts roofed it past a helpless DeSmith.

Less than two minutes later, Grimaldi struck back with the equalizer. Flying in to take a pass from Scott Perunovich, he got Silovs moving laterally and then fired the puck from the right faceoff circle inside the far post.

At 16:08, Janis Jaks put Latvia up 2-1, following up on a flashy solo drive by Rihards Bukarts to poke a loose puck past DeSmith’s right skate.

Grimaldi tied it up again with a power play one-timer from the left side with 0:57 left in the first period. It tied him with 19-year-old Cutter Gauthier for the U.S. goals lead (seven).

The Latvians brought in the tournament’s best penalty kill (96.5 percent efficiency), and this was the first power play goal they’d conceded since falling 6-0 to Canada on Day One.

In the second period, Silovs held down the fort as shots favoured the U.S. 10-3. It remained loud and crazy, including an ovation for Latvian president Egils Levits, who was in attendance.

“Obviously it’s something special when the president flies in just to watch the game and we can show him this,” said Daugavins.

At 6:19 of the third period, after a faceoff in the Latvian zone and a Dylan Samberg point shot, Matt Coronato snared a loose puck at the side of the net and fired it home for a 3-2 U.S. lead.

The Latvians kept battling, and Kristians Rubins fooled DeSmith with a shot that slipped through Garland’s attempted shot-block at 14:21 to make it 3-3, sending the arena into a frenzy. Abols nearly ended it with an exciting rush off right wing in the dying moments of the third.

“We just had to push to score, you know,” said Dans Locmelis. “We were down but we still believed in each other and that’s the biggest part of our team.”

The Americans will resume their quest for their first Ice Hockey World Championship gold medal since 1933 at the 2024 tournament in Czechia (Prague and Ostrava).

For Latvia, 2023 will always be cherished as a year where they beat the odds on home ice and then in Finland, making their loyal supporters rapturously happy. Their hunger for more medals is sure to rise now too.

“I don’t think we’re going to be coming in aiming for the medals every year,” said Abols. “Small steps are our goal, but I hope this inspires the people who play hockey. And also, the people who have the 9-to-5 jobs who come out and cheer for us. Hopefully, it inspires them to be better every day.”

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