February 18, 2014

Latvia Upsets Switzerland; Slovenia, Russia, Czechs Advance

Latvia pulled off a significant upset in Tuesday's medal round play at the men's Olympic tournament in Sochi.

Latvia - home of some of the most crazed hockey fans you will ever meet - scored two goals early and trapped their way to a 3-1 victory over the masters of the trap - Switzerland. Former NHLer Oskars Bartulis and Lauris Darzins scored in the 1st period. Martin Pluss got the Swiss on the board in the second. That was all the scoring until Darzins put the puck into the empty net with 1:01 left in the game.

Much has been made about Switzerland's impressive play in Sochi, and with fair merit. So it comes as a surprise loss for sure. I think everyone here in Canada was expecting a showdown with the Swiss on Wednesday.

Instead Canada will play Latvia. In the only previous Olympic meeting between the two countries Canada downed the pre-Soviet country 11-0 in 1936.

One of Latvia's top moments in modern hockey history has to be the 3-3 tie they earned against Canada in the 1997 World Championships.

While some in Canada will be relieved to not have to play the Swiss, Team Canada should not take Latvia too lightly. They are masters of the defensive game - thanks largely to Canadian NHL head coach Ted Nolan, and they have a spunky power play.

Slovenia pulled off a milder upset of dysfunctional Austria. The surprise Slovenians now play Sweden on Wednesday.

The Czechs built up a 4-0 lead on Slovakia only to almost blow it. But they hung on to a 5-3 victory. The Americans will chomping at the bit to play Czech Republic next.

Host Russia easily handled Norway and will now play the pesky Finns. The Finns have lost their top 3 centers due to injury but they have traditionally given Russia a lot of trouble over the last 20 years. Russia has probably the hardest game on Wednesday.

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