By Martin Merk –

Like against Japan, Marco Sturm’s team was red hot and broke the initial resistance of the Austrians after the first period.

The Germans now have an 11-0 goal record after two games and Philipp Grubauer has two shutouts from two games.

“We didn’t expect it. When you come into a tournament, you don’t know what happens, you don’t know the other teams so well. We just play our game, it’s important to do that for 60 minutes,” Grubauer said.

It was a game with a different omen for the teams. On one hand Austria fared well against Germany in the past, most notably qualifying for the 2014 Olympics at Germany’s expense and on German soil in Bietigheim-Bissingen. On the other hand Germany beat Japan 5-0 yesterday while Austria lost 8-1 to Latvia.

Would it be another goal galore against the Austrians? The Austrians’ answer in the beginning was “nein”. Like against Latvia they started the game well and even outshot their opponent, 11-8, in the first period. Would the Austrians have a chance to win? Not after another breakdown in the second period that opened the Germans the chance to take revenge on the Austrians after the Olympic Qualification trauma three-and-a-half years ago.

Like against Latvia the Austrians had trouble scoring and like that it looked like a matter of time until they were behind. This time it took a bit longer when Marcel Goc opened the scoring at 14:22.

The Germans won a puck battle at the end boards of the offensive zone. Marcus Kink sent a drop pass to Goc, who opened the scoring in the neighbouring clash.

Germany defended the lead well against an Austrian team that was not yet ready to give up. At 8:04 of the second period they extended the lead when Patrick Hager received a side pass from the boards to the crease from Felix Schutz and he stylishly moved the puck around the goalie.

With 2:40 left in the period Moritz Muller increased the lead to 3-0 scoring on a rebound after he saw a Goc shot from the blue line blocked by Austrian goalie David Kickert. Again the middle frame settled the case with a three-goal lead.

Patrick Reimer made it more lopsided early in the third period when his shot find the way through traffic into the top-left corner. With nice tic-tac-toe passing between Dominik Kahun, Tobias Rieder and eventually Felix Schutz, the Germans scored their fifth goal and on another power play Leon Draisaitl made the final score 6-0.

When Austrian forward Thomas Raffl saw his penalty shot saved by Grubauer, it became clear that the Germany shutout streak continued before the “final” against Latvia on Sunday evening that will decide which team from Riga will go to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, Korea.

“It’s great for us here, we gel together well. Now it’s all about one game we have to win,” German goalie Grubauer said.

“They play in their own arena, in their own country. They will come out like a bat out of hell. They’re a strong team that scored a lot of goals.”

Latvia rewarded

After an easy 8-1 win against Austria, many Latvian fans at Arena Riga probably expected an easy win against Japan, which suffered a 5-0 loss to Germany the day before. They and the Latvian team had to realize quickly that this game would be no cakewalk in the first official game between the two teams since a Latvian 8-2 victory at the 2001 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

“They’re a good hockey team. They play hard. They play man-on-man, which is a little different. They’re really disciplined on ice,” Latvian captain Kaspars Daugavins said while being more critical about his team’s performance.

“We made a lot of childish mistakes and gave them so many opportunities to actually beat us today. We should be ashamed how we played today but we know we can play way better.”

The first period ended scoreless with chances on both sides as Latvia outshot Japan 9-6. The Asians defended their net better and tried to use their speed to score a possible upset.

In the second period the home team came out stronger, shot more often but the Japanese created the better chances especially midway through the period including a Yuki Miuri breakaway and Daisuke Obara given leeway to score but shooting wide the net.

“Obviously playing a team of Latvia’s stature is not easy for Japan but everybody saw a team that stayed together. I’m proud of the guys and we learned at this tournament,” Japan head coach Greg Thomson said.

With 5:04 left in the middle frame the Latvians were cheering but Martins Karsums moved the puck in with his blade in motion and the game continued scoreless. However, not for long. 58 seconds later the spell was broken. After a post shot the puck was sliding between the goal line and Japanese netminder Yutaka Fukufuji. Andris Dzerins reacted the fastest and shot the puck over the line.

At 6:16 during Latvia’s first power play of the period Karsums eventually scored his goal of the night. After a long shot Fukufuji blocked the puck that ended up loose between Ryo Hashimoto’s skates. Again the Latvians reacted the fastest and Karsums made it 2-0 to give his team more confidence after two tough periods.

The Japanese still didn’t give up and came close in the last minutes of the game. After a drop pass from Seiji Takahashi it was Shuhei Kuji, who skated through the zone and beat Latvian goalie Elvis Merzlikins for the first Japanese goal of the tournament with 2:14 left in regulation time.

The Japanese pulled the goalie looking for the second goal but the Latvians defended their lead, Dzerins scored into the empty net and his team can now get ready for the winner-takes-it-all game with Germany on Sunday.

“The main game will be in two days. We better think how we need to start playing. We have to improve everywhere. I don’t think anybody should be happy about this game tonight,” Daugavins said about the Sunday showdown.