Having never won a game in the top level of the under 20 (U20) World Junior Championship (WJC), Latvia was the odds-on favorite to finish at the bottom of the standings. They were added to the lineup when Russia and Belarus were expelled for their invasion of Ukraine. Prior to the start of the WJC, the thought was that if the Latvians hope to surprise in this tournament and earn a spot in the Quarterfinal, their goaltending would need to steal a game or two. Spoiler alert, they did exactly that.
Latvian History is Made
Prior to facing Czechia in the last game of the round robin, Latvia was 0-27 since their last WJC win, back in 2012 versus Denmark. In this game, it took a hat trick by defenceman Ralfs Bergmanis, the captain of the University of Vermont NCAA team, and an excellent performance in goal by Bruno Bruveris for Latvia to get past them 5-2 on Aug. 14 to secure a Quarter Final spot at the WJC.
With the win, Latvia (1-2-1) finished third in Group A, one position ahead of Czechia (1-2-1). This puts them into the Quarter Finals for the first time in their history and they are motivated to do even more.
We made history, and we’re not done yet!Martins Lavins
For a team that wasn’t even supposed to be in this tournament to begin with, seeing them win in upset fashion versus Czechia and advance to the Quarterfinals for the first time, proves Lavins right, and sets up a Cinderella story that could make even more history than it already has.
Latvia Overcomes Czech Advantage
Czechia had the advantage of talent and experience in this game and it showed on the shot clock, where they dominated possession, however, a .943 save percentage performance by Bruveris played a major role in limiting the damage done by the Czech offense.
Also, Latvia approached the game as they did every other they’ve played so far, attacking the puck with aggression and determination.
We believed we could win. We just played one game at a time and gave it our best. We played like a team and fought for each other. We stayed focus the whole time.Darels Dukurs
Czechia didn’t play poorly, they just simply hit a wall named Bruveris. The Latvian offence was highly opportunistic, taking advantage of every scoring chance provided. Also, their aggressive style helped them jump out to a crucial early first-period 2-0 lead with Lavins and Rainers Rullers scoring goals on just four shots. By the end of the game, they were able to score five goals on only 17 shots. But this proves that any team can win, especially when the bounces go their way.
Latvia clearly entered the tournament with a mental approach of “us versus the world”, and as a team that was brought in by a technicality, it makes sense they would. They approached it with the mentality of playing for their teammates, to try and win for each other. So far, they have shown that a determined group can surprise the hockey world.
What’s Next for Latvia?
Latvia will be the clear underdog in the Quarter Final regardless of which team they face. Their opponent will be the winner of Sweden versus Germany, in the final Group B match-up on Aug 15 at 8 PM on TSN in Canada and NHL Network in the United States.
Given the choice, Latvia may prefer to play Germany instead of facing off against Sweden, a pre-tournament gold medal competitor. But it’s clear that they feel they can take on any challenge and will attack the game in the same way they have every game thus far. They seem to have embraced the role of underdog and will do all they can to keep the Cinderella run alive. Underestimating this team could prove to be detrimental to anyone’s chances, and that is what makes the WJC interesting to watch.
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|Team USA||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Austria||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Czechia||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Finland||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Germany||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Sweden||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Switzerland||Players to Watch||Roster|
All Your THW 2022 World Junior Championship Coverage
Blain is a regular contributor as a THW Writer. For over 7 years he has been a part time journalist and podcaster covering the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and its affiliates. He has made appearances on various television and radio stations as well as podcasts to discuss the Canadiens, and the NHL. Blain has taken the lessons on integrity, ethics, values and honesty that he has learned as a 28 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist to guide him in informing his readers and his goal of being a trusted source of information and entertainment.