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Latvia loses to Germany in overtime shootout

Photo: Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images.
After a pulsating showdown saw Germany and Latvia battle it out for the last QF spot at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, the host got the verdict after a nerve-jangling shoot-out in Cologne.

The last ticket to the quarter-finals was booked in the most dramatic fashion, with Germany getting the edge in a shoot-out thanks to Frederik Tiffels. After five failed attempts, Tiffels found the way through Elvis Merzlinkins' five-hole to snap a 3-3 tie and give Germany the victory it needed to secure a quarter-final match-up here in Cologne against defending champion Canada.

Even before the drama of a shoot-out, another capacity crowd in Cologne was treated to a breathless finale to a pulsating 60 minutes of hockey. After Latvia tied the game at 2-2 midway through the third period, Andris Dzerins looked to have snatched victory for his team with four minutes left, only for Germany to salvage a last-gasp leveller with 32 seconds remaining on the clock.

Felix Schutz got the goal, forcing the puck home from close range after a mighty scramble around Elvis Merzlinkins’ net. Germany, desperately seeking to preserve its championship hopes, was playing six-on-four hockey, ramping up the power play by benching goalie Philipp Grubauer in a final death-or-glory surge. Latvia’s players, despairing, lay slumped in the goal crease as the home team and its fans celebrated.

The stakes could not have been higher going into the game: the teams in fourth and fifth place were level on points; the knock-out phase started early as Tuesday night’s winner would advance while the loser would go home.

And both teams were evenly matched, despite following different paths to collect nine points from their first six games. Latvia had reliably defeated the three weaker teams without troubling Group A’s big hitters; Germany shocked eventual group winner Team USA in the opening game, but stuttered in its games against Slovakia and Denmark.

Latvia recalled three key players – Dzerins, Janis Sprukts and goalie Merzlikins – after resting them for yesterday’s 0-5 loss against Russia. And Bob Hartley’s decision to rotate his squad paid off handsomely with all three men making a big contribution. Dzerins and Sprukts both scored, while Merzlinkins produced another fine goaltending display, especially in a first period that Germany dominated without scoring. He made 19 saves in that session, with the highlight coming in the final seconds of the session after Draisaitl went round the back to feed Yasin Ehliz only for a reaction stop to deny Germany the opening goal.

But as the game passed its midway point, two goals in 27 seconds put Germany in control and a sell-out crowd into raptures. On the power play, Christian Ehrhoff saw his effort from the blue line saved, but David Wolf collected the rebound and beat Merzlikins on the backhand for his first goal of the tournament. Replays suggested that the puck crossed the blue line before Ehrhoff’s shot, but no offside call came and the goal stood. The crowd was still celebrating when Marcus Kink burst into the Latvian zone and took a shot. Merzlikins got good distance on his block but directed the puck straight to Dennis Seidenberg, who had no hesitation in firing it into the net.

At last, Latvia began to generate some offence and before long Philipp Grubauer pulled off the best save of the night. A power play for the Baltic team saw a chance for Kaspars Daugavins right in front of the net. A goal seemed certain, but Grubauer flung out his stick and clawed the puck out of the top corner. Moments later Maris Bicevskis hit the post, and there was a growing sense that this might be Germany’s night.

That confidence was checked late in the second period, though, when Gunars Skvorcovs got a goal back for Latvia. Kristaps Sotnieks released him for a rush into the German zone and, with traffic ahead of Grubauer’s net, the Latvian was able to pick out a spot inside the far post and rip a wrister that the goalie got nowhere near, making it a one-goal game going into the final session.

Then Latvia tied it up in the 49th minute when Sprukts squeezed a shot through Grubauer’s pads after a no-look feed from Miks Indrasis beside the net. Germany’s lead was gone, and it was all to play for in the final 10.

Latvia thought it had won it in regulation when Dzerins got the tip on a slapshot from Uvis Balinskis as Latvia pressed on a power play, giving his team a 3-2 lead on 56:08. But a late penalty on Arturs Kulda for delaying the game changed everything, as the Germans prolonged the excitement into overtime before Tiffels sent the home crowd into raptures with his game-winning shot.


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