International Ice Hockey Federation

Copp that!

Late strike gives USA tight win over Latvia

Published 13.05.2017 15:19 GMT+2 | Author Andy Potts
Copp that!
COLOGNE, GERMANY - MAY 13: Latvia's Elvis Merzlikins #30 makes the save while USA's J.T. Compher #7 looks for a rebound during preliminary round action against the U.S. at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Team USA claimed another fightback win here in Cologne, coming from 0-2 and 1-3 to edge out Latvia in the final four minutes of play.

When Latvia meets the USA in World Championship action, sparks can fly. The previous meeting between the teams at this level came in Minsk in 2014, with Latvia edging the verdict by the odd goal in 11. Today in Cologne the two teams were wild once again, sharing eight goals in another frenetic battle that ended with the USA taking a big step towards securing a quarter-final spot.

With barely three minutes to play and the scores locked at 3-3, Andrew Copp came up with the game-winner, streaking from his own zone to make a rendezvous with Latvian goalie Elvis Merzlikins and wiring a wrister that looped off the netminder’s shoulder and dropped in.

Latvia, which had never been behind until that moment, threw everything forward in search of an equalizer, only to be hit by an empty-netter from Dylan Larkin that sealed the 5-3 outcome.

"It was a huge win given the early adversity," Copp said. "They played really hard especially those first two periods. We needed to get our legs under us a little bit and get into intensity mode. It was important for us to handle that adversity and inch back in the second and battle throughout the third."

Defeat was hard on a Latvian team that continues to impress here in Germany. Knowing that success today would go a long way toward booking a place in the last eight for the first time since 2009, Bob Hartley’s players tore out of the blocks. The early pressure was all around Connor Hellebuyck’s net. Kaspars Daugavins tested the goalie in the third minute, collecting an Andris Dzerins feed in front of the net only to find Hellebuyck’s glove.

The pressure continued, and the opening goal duly arrived in the 12th minute. Teodors Blugers, one of a cohort of youngsters drafted onto the roster by Hartley since he took over the head coach’s role, claimed his first ever senior international marker with a close-range finish off a sizzling feed from Maris Bicevskis.

Blugers, who admitted he wasn't sure what had happened to the puck he shot past Hellebuyck, had mixed feelings about his afternoon.

"I feel like we played a pretty good game - especially our first period - but we had a couple defensive breakdowns that cost us," he said. "That last goal was a little bit of a bad bounce when we needed to hold on a few minutes longer.

"They're obviously a lot more skilled but I felt that overall we defended pretty well. We did our jobs decently well, but not quite well enough."

The Latvians had even more cause for excitement at the start of the third. Seizing possession from the face-off, Roberts Bukarts advanced deep into US territory before feeding Dzerins on the point. Daugavins despatched the puck from close range, and that was 2-0.

At last, the Americans began to respond. TJ Compher grabbed his second of the tournament when he redirected an Anders Lee feed just inside Merzlikins’ near post. The one-goal margin lasted two-and-a-half minutes before Oskars Cibulskis got to the rebound from a Miks Indrasis shot and made it 3-1.

With the game just beyond its midway point, Latvia looked to have a measure of control. But that evaporated as team USA hauled itself level before the second intermission. First, amid a shooting gallery in front of Merzlinkin’s net, Nick Bjugstad fired home after Nick Schmaltz was denied by the pads. Then, seconds after Roberts Buckarts dinged the bar at the other end, Johnny Gaudreau roofed a loose puck after Jason Trouba wreaked havoc on the wraparound.

"We came back against Sweden too," added Copp. "The mental makeup of this team is good. We know we can come back against anybody. Having that confidence when we are down like we were 3-1 today and come back and win will take us a long way in this tournament."

The third period continued to produce breathless action, although Merzlikins was now the busier of the two goalies. Latvia’s first choice shotstopper came up with big saves to deny Schmaltz and Clayton Keller, while Hellebuyck mostly dealt with breakaway chances. Finally Copp came up with the decisive breakthrough, lifting the Americans to a fourth victory from five games and tightening their grip on a top-four finish in Group A.

Latvia, with three wins already, has realistic hopes of joining the USA there. "That's the goal," said Blugers. "There are teams that are more skilled than us but we can stick together, play with energy and out-work other teams. We haven't made it yet, we have two big games to go, but we'll be ready for them."

The game at LANXESS arena in Cologne was played in front of 17,936 fans, which is believed to be a modern-day attendance record for a noon game of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.