International Ice Hockey Federation

Elvis is alive

Netminder shuts the door on Denmark

Published 06.05.2017 15:07 GMT+2 | Author John Sanful
Elvis is alive
COLOGNE, GERMANY - MAY 6: Latvia's Kristaps Sotnieks #11 and Kaspars Daugavins #16 battle for the puck with Denmark's Julian Jakobsen #33 during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Gints Meija's second period goal and Elvis Merzlikins strong goaltending propel Latvia to an improbable but well earned first win.

Latvia began the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in fine fashion, defeating Denmark 3-0 at LANXESS arena. Gints Meija’s second period goal would prove the winner while goaltender Elvis Merzlikins stopped all 27 of Denmark's shots on goal to register the shutout. 

Coming into this game, Denmark defeated Latvia three of the four times they’ve met, including a 3-2 penalty shots win in St. Petersburg in 2016.

Latvia weathered an active first period when Denmark threw significant pressure on Merzlikins. Danish skaters kept Merzlikins busy as possible, producing 18 shots in the period from all angles, the point and in front of the net.

"Elvis came up with some big plays and shut the door." Bob Hartley said. "Our box play was good and we applied good pressure, which was the plan. But without Elvis making key saves they would have taken the lead and we might not have won."

Merzlikins, who is making his second straight appearance on the national team, was tapped by head coach Bob Hartley to start.

If Hartley’s name rings a bell, it is because he’s the very same head coach who spent many years behind NHL benches from Colorado to Calgary. In fact, when the World Championships were in Germany in 2001, Hartley was preparing his Colorado Avalanche team for the NHL playoffs. They would go on to win the Stanley Cup that spring. 

While Denmark put a lot of pressure on Latvia in the first period they were not able to score. Forward Mads Christensen was active in the period, creating space for himself and getting off four shots but was unable to get on the scoreboard. 

"I thought we played a strong first period." Head coach Jan Karlsson said after the game. "We came out and worked really hard and playing at a top level. Latvia played a good box but we needed to create more scoring than we did. Overall, very good first period. We should have scored one or two goals."

The tide turned in the second period when Latvia reversed their fortunes and began to apply more force in the offensive zone. At 3:08 Gints Meija put his team on the board. Arturs Kulda cycled the puck in the Danish zone and found Meija in front of the net. Meija’s initial shot was saved but he continued to keep his skates moving forward and fought past defenseman Markus Lauridsen to pick up his own rebound and deposit it into the net. 

Latvia had several more scoring opportunities in the period but were unable to convert. Still, they had changed the momentum and put it squarely on their side. Denmark was forced to play back on its heels. 

Latvia opened up a two goal lead when Miks Indrasis rifled a shot past Denmark netminder Sebastien Dahm. Indrasis was set up thanks to a nifty slot pass from Janis Sprukts. The goal came at 1:48 of the third period.

Later, Denmark found themselves down two men when Mads Christensen was called for tripping and Peter Regin for high sticking. Latvia did not let the advantage slip. Indrasis added a power play goal to make it 3-0 and put the game well out of reach. 

Prior to this tournament Hartley has said his focus is to keep things simple and take one step at a time. Hartley has brought in, like Ted Nolan before him, a keen sense of doing the little things right that will lead to good habits in games that count. The approach seems to have worked as Latvia was strong over the final forty minutes of play. 

Denmark must now go back to the drawing board and reassess. The tournament is still young but the Danes will have to work to improve their game, which started strong but seemed to fall flat by the third period when they managed only three shots on goal.

The first of three games today at LANXESS arena, Latvia-Denmark was well attended as 13,453 took in the game.