Arturs Silovs’ Latvia squad advances to Worlds quarterfinal with huge win vs. Switzerland
Photo credit:Team Latvia
6 months ago
On the back of newfound starter Arturs Silovs, Latvia head into Tuesday’s action with a chance to qualify for the IIHF World Championship quarterfinal.
After Slovakia’s regulation win earlier in the day, Latvia simply needed to force overtime and then — win or lose — they could clinch the final spot. It was a lot of pressure for the hometown squad, who had to pull off the feat against an incredibly strong Team Switzerland.
Switzerland is the only team in the tournament that has remained unbeaten, and not once in their six games prior to today did they require overtime to pick up one of those wins. Overtime wins count for two points whereas regulation wins count for three — meaning Switzerland had a perfect 18 points through six games.
Latvia, on the other hand, entered tied at 11 points with Slovakia. Despite Latvia having more goals for and more wins than Slovakia, Slovakia won the two nations’ lone head to head matchup, meaning the Slovaks had the tiebreaker against Latvia.
Again, this is all a long-winded way of saying what we already stated. Latvia needed just one point to qualify for the quarterfinal round.
Through the first period, Latvia put on a “don’t get scored on” clinic. Not a defensive clinic by any means — rather, they dove headfirst in front of Swiss shots and collapsed in front of Silovs on numerous occasions. It reminded me of watching the Canucks cover the home plate area during the Western Conference semi-finals against the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2020 Playoff bubble.
The second period began with a huge goal for Latvia that the Swiss unsuccessfully challenged for goaltender interference. Latvia’s 4-for-22 power play got to work, and were given a 5-on-3 man advantage when the Swiss side took a puck over the glass penalty that also should have been a high sticking penalty. Latvia was unable to convert, but was still playing like their lives were on the line in the second period.
Kevin Fiala managed to get a puck through traffic that beat Silovs off a draw following an icing. There were legitimately four bodies — not including Silovs — in front of Fiala, but the puck managed to squeak through everyone:
Rodrigo Abols — a seventh-round pick of the Canucks in 2016 — answered immediately, with a strong push up the wing and a bit of luck to slide the puck between the goaltender’s wickets.
Silovs made some absolutely massive saves after this and was instrumental in Latvia hanging onto their lead for a good stretch of time. The Swiss even picked up a late power play, but Latvia’s penalty killers kept all movement to the outside, and Silovs was as sharp as ever.
As expected, Switzerland came out in the third pouring on the pressure, and as expected, Silovs and Latvia were in “do not get scored on” mode. After killing off a penalty, Latvia allowed a heartbreaking goal as the puck pinballed in behind Silovs to even things up again.
Simply put, Latvia couldn’t give up another goal if they wanted to play in the quarterfinal in front of their hometown fans. You could feel the tension through whatever screen you were watching the game. Despite the tension, the crowd was raucous as ever, chanting “Lat-vi-a!” right up until the final horn.
Switzerland continued to pour on the pressure, and after a ton of time in the Latvian end, managed to break through with 6:14 to go in the third period.
Then, roughly a minute later, the miraculous happened.
The building was shaking with excitement. Tears flowed off the faces of Latvian fans. This meant so much to them, and now it was up to the players on the ice to protect the tie and punch their ticket to the quarterfinal.
Latvia did their best to play keep away from Switzerland, and Silovs was up to the challenge when the Swiss side did manage to get the puck and get their chances off.
Two minutes to go. Latvia still hanging on.
One minute to go. Zile ices the puck, throws his head up in disgust, because icing the puck with tired legs on the ice is an awful, awful idea. Puck drop back in the Latvian end. Switzerland wins the draw. Latvia gets on the boards and tie up the puck. They get it into the Swiss end with under 30 seconds to go. Switzerland breaks back in the other way, with Kevin Fiala carrying the puck. Silovs gets his pad flush to the ice and makes what he’d likely tell you was the save of his life.
The teams take coincidental roughing minors to go 4-on-4. Faceoff comes outside the Latvia zone. Timeout Latvia with seven seconds to go. Switzerland wins the draw, but Latvia shuts them down in the neutral zone. Time expires and Latvia celebrates.
Then they remembered that they still have to play overtime against Switzerland.
But it really didn’t matter. What mattered is that they locked it down when they needed to most, and pulled off the improbable to advance to the quarterfinal on home soil.
Silovs’ performance during this tournament has been simply remarkable, and you certainly haven’t heard the end of this story. Silovs faced 31 shots in regulation and saved his best performance for last.
Latvia went on to win in overtime, with Rudolfs Balcers securing the victory:
They made an already amazing night for Latvian hockey somehow even more perfect. Latvia handed Switzerland their first and only loss of the tournament, and scored four goals against a team that had given up just six goals through the six games they played prior to this one.
They will now play Sweden on Thursday, and we’ll have plenty of coverage heading into that game, along with Team USA and Team Canada’s games as well.
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