A well-taken goal scored eight minutes into the second period as well as another flawless performance at the back propelled rebounding GERMANY to a 2-0 shutout triumph over successful Olympic qualifiers LATVIA in a pivotal meeting involving the bottom two teams of the Helsinki-based group at the 2013 IIHF World Championships.
The Latvia side trained by Canadian legionnaire TED NOLAN, the rugged left winger who skated 78 games (6 go, 22 pts, 105 pim) in the National Hockey League for the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins before later serving as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres for two seasons in the late 1990s, was returning fourteen players from the squad that upended Germany 3-2 at the annual IIHF tournament twelve months ago. The Latvians were also entering this latest match with the Germans fresh from its first win at the 2013 IIHF World Championships, a 5-3 decision over last season’s silver medalist Slovakia. LAURIS DARZINS of Russian Kontinental Hockey League club Ak Bars Kazan, the 28-year-old left wing who had appeared at seven major international tournaments (38 ga, 11 go, 15 pts) for Latvia before missing the annual IIHF affair last season after suffering through an injury-plagued campaign, led the way with three goals against the Slovaks.
The German side trained by Canadian legionnaire PAT CORTINA arrived to face the Latvians having also just registered its first win at this year’s IIHF World Championships, a 2-0 whitewash of the very same Austrian team that had already dumped the Latvians 6-3 earlier in the tournament. With the number of Group H matches starting to dwindle rapidly, the Germany v Latvia result was guaranteed to have an enormous impact on the race to avoid the automatic relegation that accompanies finishing last in the Helsinki pool. There is no doubt that Cortina simply can not continue in his role as the national team trainer of Deutschland should the Germans fail to remain in the top tier at the annual IIHF World Championships.
Latvia captain LAURIS DARZINS (10) of Russian KHL club Ak Bars Kazan, the ninth round pick (# 268 overall) of the Nashville Predators at the 2003 National Hockey League Draft, is harassed by the German pair of center PATRICK HAGER (50) of ERC Ingolstadt and defenseman JUSTIN KRUEGER (3) from the American Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers during the IIHF World Championships – Group H contest at the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, Finland.
As was the case in the preceding contest with Austria, the Germans were forced to skate shorthanded two players in the first period against the Latvians after right wing FELIX SCHUETZ of Koelner Haie and center PATRICK HAGER of ERC Ingolstadt were both assessed tripping penalties within three seconds of each other; Latvia’s two-man advantage on the power play lasted just over a minute, however, after right wing MARTINS CIPULIS of Czech KHL outfit HC Lev Praha was, himself, sent to the box for tripping.
The Latvians had what was, perhaps, the best chance in a wide open first twenty minutes which saw the two teams almost evenly divide the thirty shots that found their target. Left wing MIKS INDRASIS of Dynamo Riga broke away late in the period but was denied at the very last second by the outstretched leg of Germany netminder ROB ZEPP of Deutsche Eishockey Liga champion Eisbaeren Berlin. Germany center MARCEL GOC of the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers was charged with slashing on the play but the Latvians were, once again, unable to convert on the ensuing power play.
At the other end of the ice in Helsinki, meanwhile, the Latvians were getting a good game out of inexperienced goaltender KRISTERS GUDLEVSKIS of Dynamo Riga. The 20-year-old had become the third different goaltender to start between the pipes for Latvia at this 2013 IIHF World Championships when sent out by the trainer Nolan to make his debut at a major international tournament in the match with Slovakia. Gudlevskis, who spent most of this 2012/13 campaign tending the nets for HK Riga in the so-called Minor Hockey League (a developmental circuit for the Kontinental Hockey League), turned aside 14 German shots in the opening period.
Germany completely dictated the flow of traffic while putting on an outstanding display of organization and discipline on defense in the second period of play. The Latvians, who had snapped a streak of seven consecutive losses at the annual IIHF World Championships with the win over Slovakia, would be limited to a mere four shots on goal. Fittingly, it was the player on Cortina’s roster with the most career international appearances for Deutschland who shot Germany into the lead nearing the halfway point of the contest at the Hartwall Arena.
Immediately following a face-off at the right circle, winger PHILIP GOGULLA of Koelner Haie, the former Buffalo Sabres farmhand who had compiled 18 assists in 39 career games for Germany at major international tournaments heading into this year’s tournament in Finland, circled all the way around the Latvian net before finding former D.E.L. teammate CHRISTOPH ULLMANN in the slot with a perfect backhand feed. A textbook finish from the 29-year-old Adler Mannheim center who was wearing the German sweater for the 136th time in his career left Gudelskis absolutely no chance whatsoever. And so, Ullmann’s fifth goal on his 49th appearance for Deutschland at a major international tournament left the Latvians trailing at the 8:05 mark of the second period.
Latvia went on the power play for the fourth time, officially, after TORSTEN ANKERT of Koelner Haie, the 24-year-old defenseman who is appearing at his first major international tournament for Germany, was penalized for holding five and a half minutes later. But with Zepp in fine form and the entire defensive corps about to help Germany record back-to-back shutouts for the first time in 77 years, it made little difference. Thus, the Germans were able to successfully kill off a penalty for the 15th consecutive time going all the way back to the opening contest with host nation Finland.
The diminutive (5’10″ 176 lbs) Hager, who registered nine goals and 29 points in 52 D.E.L. games after transferring to ERC Ingolstadt from Krefeld Pinguine last summer, put the Latvians in a deep hole three minutes into the third period. After taking a short pass from NHL-Star defenseman CHRISTIAN EHRHOFF of the Buffalo Sabres in center ice and steaming into the offensive zone, the enterprising, 24-year-old center promptly unleashed a wrist shot that took a slight deflection off the ankle of Latvia defenseman MARIS JASS of German D.E.L. side Hannover Scorpions and flew perfectly into the upper left hand corner of the net. Indeed, the strike marked Hager’s first ever goal for Germany at a major international event.
There would be no way back for Latvia, who remained at the bottom of Group H having taken just three points from its first five games. Aside from three more points in the standings for the Helsinki pool, Germany improved its all-time record against the Latvians to six wins against three losses with one tie. Latvia blanked the Germans in consecutive meetings at the IIHF World Championships in 1998 and 1999 but had not been shutout, themselves, by Deutschland at a major international tournament since 1938.
“I think we just stayed true to ourselves. Nothing comes easy for this team. We have to work hard at it for sixty minutes. We made a few mistakes in the first few games but I think we’ve limited them in the last two,” stated Zepp, who finished with 26 saves, after turning in his second consecutive clean sheet for Germany.
Germany netminder ROB ZEPP (72) of Eisbaeren Berlin, the native Canadian who has posted standout numbers in his first eight games (1.67 avg, .948 save pct) for Deutschland at major international tournaments, prepares to smother the puck as Adler Mannheim center and game-winning goal-scorer CHRISTOPH ULLMANN (47) diligently shileds attacking Latvia left wing MIK INDRASIS (70) of Dynamo Riga.
IIHF World Championships
Group H – Helsinki, Finland
Hartwall Arena – attendance : 9,199
referees – Croft (United States) and Reiber (Switzerland)
GERMANY 2 – LATVIA 0
28:05 … GER – Ullmann (Gogulla, Wolf)
43:05 … GER – Hager (Ehrhoff, N. Goc)
shots-on-goal : GER 34 – LAT 26 … penalty minutes : LAT 33 – GER 8
GERMANY : Zepp – Ankert, Ehrhoff ; N. Goc, Mueller ; Baxmann, Hoerdler ; Krueger – Rankel, M. Goc, Schuetz ; Gogulla, Ullmann, Wolf ; Seidenberg, Kink, Tripp ; Greilinger, Hager, Mauer ; Pietta
LATVIA : Gudlevskis – Sotnieks, Redlihs ; Freiburgs, Kulda ; M. Jass, Andersons – Darzins, Sprukts, Cipulis ; Indrasis, Dzerins, Meija ; Kenins, Berzins, Jekimovs ; Sirokovs, Pavlovs, Stals ; K. Jass
NOTES — Germany captain CHRISTIAN EHRHOFF totaled 27:22 of ice time while new arrival JUSTIN KRUEGER of the American Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers, operating in the role as the ‘seventh’ defenseman for Deutschland, was the third-most utilized blueliner by trainer PAT CORTINA having logged 15:05 of ice time. Eisbaeren Berlin defender FRANK HOERDLER, who was chosen as the player of the game for Germany, skated 18:35 in the contest with Latvia. NHL legionnaire MARCEL GOC led all German forwards with 16:38 of ice time, exactly four seconds more than Adler Mannheim left wing YANNIC SEIDENBERG.
Germany last recorded back-to-back shutouts at a major international event by defeating Alpine neighbors Italy (3-0) and Switzerland (2-0) at the IV Winter Olympic Games held at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936.
Latvia center ZEMGUS GIRGENSONS, the first round selection (# 14 overall) of the Buffalo Sabres at the 2012 NHL Draft who spent his entire rookie professional season skating for the Rochester Americans (60 ga, 6 go, 17 pts) in the AHL, sat out his one-game suspension earned a for butt-ending incident in the preceding contest against Slovakia.