Latvia nearly upsets juggernaut; Canada wins 2-1
BY RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist February 19, 2014 4:24PM
Team Canada celebrates a third period goal against Latvia during a men's quarterfinal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Updated: February 19, 2014 6:03PM
SOCHI, Russia — For more than 50 minutes of action Wednesday night, Team Canada was in very deep trouble, the kind of trouble that would make a hockey-proud country turn its heroes away from the border.
The Canadians were locked in a 1-1 tie with Latvia, a country of two million people. They were absolutely dominating the puck. You could drive a Zamboni through the shots-on-goal discrepancy. The Latvians gave no outwardly appearance of having any chance to score a goal.
And yet the score was tied. There was no denying that. The longer it was tied, the more the Latvians became emboldened. And the more the tightness set in on the throats of people in Canada.
But one blistering slap shot from Shea Weber with six minutes, 54 seconds left changed everything.
Resume breathing, Canada.
Its 2-1 victory night set up an Olympic semifinal showdown with the United States on Friday.
“This is what it’s all about,’’ said Canada’s Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks’ captain. “Canada-U.S has become maybe a bigger rivalry than Canada-Russia. There’s a lot of animosity, a lot of feelings like there’s something to prove between both teams.
“It’s for the chance to go play for the gold medal. It doesn’t get any better than that, playing for your country against the United States. There are millions of kids who grow up dreaming of this situation, and we have a chance to go make a dream come true.’’
It was a little iffy there for a while. The Hawks’ Patrick Sharp had given Canada a 1-0 lead in the first period, but Latvia tied it a few minutes later on Lauris Darzins’ breakaway goal.
And then, for the longest time, nothing. Canada would end up with a 57-16 advantage in shots, but Latvia goalie Kristers Gudlevskis was outstanding. The Latvians didn’t seem to have the offensive firepower to score a goal, but hockey is a crazy, unpredictable game.
And if you didn’t know that for sure, you knew it after Finland upset Russia 3-1 earlier in the day.
Was Canada concerned?
“It’s 1-1, if they score, then it’s scary,’’ Toews said. “But I think we stayed confident.’’
Not an easy task. Latvia basically was in a prevent defense the entire game, and it was difficult for Canada to get scoring opportunities after the initial shot.
Weber’s shot lifted one country and dashed the hopes of another.
“It’s tough,’’ Darzins said. “We felt that the medal round was this close. What can I say? After two periods, it was 1-1 and it was basically where we wanted the game to be.
“Right now after a loss, I can’t say it was a good game. All the guys are down because of the loss, maybe after a week or two, we’re going to look back and realize, ‘Hey, I’m proud of the team. It was a great ride for us.’ ’’
Canada now moves on to face its neighbor its south. The one with Hawks star Patrick Kane.
“He’s all right,’’ Toews said, smiling. “That (Phil) Kesler guy’s even better, though.’’
Let the game begin.