International Ice Hockey Federation

Tiffels - Germany's hero!

Shoot-out win takes host to QF clash

Published 16.05.2017 23:42 GMT+2 | Author Andy Potts
Tiffels - Germany's hero!
COLOGNE, GERMANY - MAY 16: Germany players and fans celebrate after a 4-3 shoot-out win over Latvia during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
After a pulsating showdown saw Germany and Latvia battle it out for the last QF spot, the host got the verdict in 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.

Tiffels, who celebrates his 22nd birthday on Saturday, is a Cologne native who is back in his home town for the championship after three years playing for West Michigan University. Team-mate Moritz Muller described the youngster's impact on the national team.

"When Frederik went out in the shootout I was thinking this could be a special night for him if he scores," Muller said. "This young player had a breakout at this World Championship and I thought it could be a special moment in German sports. I am happy for him and he did it for us; after that was celebration time."

Even before the drama of a shoot-out, another capacity crowd at the LANXESS Arena 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 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 an eleventh-hour reprieve.

German captain Christian Ehrhoff said: "In those last moments we were just focusing on trying to everything to tie the game. There was a belief in the group, there wasn't really any doubt, we felt it was all in our hands."

His opposite number, Latvia's Kaspars Daugavins, tried to articulate a mixture of disappointment and pride. "We didn’t get where we want," he said. "Our mindset had us going to Paris tomorrow and it hurts that we're not. But since I've been with the team, I don't remember a group like this. These are good guys and we believe we can play with anyone. I hope we can keep this going for a long time. We have to thank Bob Hartley for bringing this new culture to Latvian hockey."

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 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 Leon 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 sent a raucous crowd into raptures. On the power play, 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 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 before Schutz delivered his late leveler.

"It was a terrible feeling when they scored," said Ehliz. "We were leading 2-0 then it was 3-2. The good thing is that it gave us a push and we won the game. In the end it was a great game, and winning in the shoot-out was huge for us."