2023 World Juniors: Team Latvia Sticks to it with Czechia 

The best under-20 players representing 10 countries, including Canada, are competing at the 2023 World Junior Championship (WJC), which is being co-hosted by Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Moncton, New Brunswick. The pre-tournament games have already begun in smaller communities around the two cities. On Dec. 20, however, the action was at the Scotiabank Center in Halifax, where Czechia faced off against Latvia.

Normally, a pre-tournament game would only be relevant as an opportunity for teams to prepare for more meaningful games. But on this night, the Latvians had to overcome some adversity to even be able to compete.

Latvia’s Equipment Issues

During their long trip to Halifax, it seems that the airline misplaced some or all of Team Latvia’s equipment. A well-placed source reported that Air Canada had lost some of Latvia’s equipment, although it’s uncertain if it was caused by baggage handlers working for Air Canada or staff working for Moscow’s airport authority. At the time of publication, Air Canada had provided no comment. However, the airline is reportedly covering all financial costs to replace any missing equipment, some of which never made it onto the flight.

This loss left Latvia very little time to find what they needed before taking to the ice for practice on Dec 19, and several members of the Latvian squad were spotted at various local hockey equipment vendors, buying as much as they could.

According to sources at Hockey Nova Scotia and in the local community, Latvia was missing some training equipment along with a small amount of personal gear, but for the most part, it was their sticks, which were quickly supplied at no charge to the Latvian team. The hard work of volunteers and the Latvian staff ensured that the players were able to step onto the ice for practice in Halifax as scheduled and were equipped to compete come game time. 

The Game – Czechia vs Latvia 

Team Latvia is coming off a historic performance at the 2022 WJC. In August, they beat Czechia to qualify for the Quarterfinals for the first time. The win was also Latvia’s first at the World Juniors since its 2-1 victory over Denmark on Jan. 4, 2012. Several members of their team have played at various levels in North America, giving the tiny nation an advantage of arriving with familiarity and readiness to play a more physical brand of hockey on NHL-sized ice surfaces. 

Related: Guide to the 2023 World Junior Championship 

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Latvia’s fans have already made their presence known and arrived at the Scotiabank Center in Halifax ready for a spectacle. They were loud and spirited from the opening puck drop to the final buzzer. As for the game, Latvia started with a strong performance, opening the scoring early and battling Czechia to a draw at even strength, but it was the Czech power play (PP), led by defenseman David Moravec, that made the early difference as they cashed in on Latvia’s first penalty.

David Moravec Team Czechia
David Moravec, Team Czechia (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

From then on, Czechia took control. Latvia stayed within a goal after 40 minutes, but that came to an end about eight minutes into the third when the Czech PP struck again. Despite Latvia’s best efforts, they were unable to match Czechia’s skill. With a final score of 6-3, Czechia avenged their loss in the 2022 round-robin when they were eliminated by Latvia.

While Latvia is not a medal favorite, the good nature of their players and staff and the friendly faces of their fans have made them an early local fan favorite. Latvia has brought with them a hard-working team that will be entertaining to watch. Their fanbase might be a small group, but their easy-going, fun-loving nature will add to the festive atmosphere at this World Junior Championship.

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