Home > Uncategorized > Swiss miss: Canada lands Latvia in quarter-finals

Swiss miss: Canada lands Latvia in quarter-finals

Julio Cortez/The Associated Press Latvia goaltender Edgars Masalskis snags a shot on goal by Switzerland in the second period of their qualification game at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Tuesday. Latvia won 3-1 in a stunning upset despite being outshot 33-22 as Masalskis turned in the performance of his lifetime.

Julio Cortez/The Associated Press
Latvia goaltender Edgars Masalskis snags a shot on goal by Switzerland in the second period of their qualification game at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Tuesday. Latvia won 3-1 in a stunning upset despite being outshot 33-22 as Masalskis turned in the performance of his lifetime. For those wondering, Masalskis is 33 years old and has never garnered much in the way of NHL interest — until, possibly, now. If his encore effort against Canada in Wednesday’s quarter-final features similar heroics, then Masalaskis’ agent (if he has one) will likely be fielding a few phone calls in the not-too-distant future.

Latvia eh? Didn’t see that coming.

I would have bet a fair chunk of change on Switzerland making it through the qualification round and giving Canada a semi-serious run for its money in Wednesday’s quarter-final.

Now, that challenge will fall to Latvia, which, on paper, should be a cakewalk for Canada.

Larry Fisher
Larry Fisher

Then again, I would have wagered the same — if not more — on Slovakia beating Slovenia. That didn’t happen, either.

Ditto for Russia defeating the United States in a shootout.

Through regulation and overtime, the Americans had equal opportunity to prevail, but when it came down to a skills competition, the Russians were armed with some of the world’s best.

Tell that to T.J. Oshie, who scored four times in the tiebreaker, including the eighth-round winner. It’s really too bad most of North America was asleep for that middle-of-the-night miracle.

Overall, I’d be broke from these Olympics.

That said, I’d be all-in again on Canada cruising past Latvia.

Living dangerously, I know.

I might be underestimating the Latvians — as I’m sure the Swiss also did — but, realistically speaking, Latvia just played (and won) its gold-medal game.

Merely making the quarter-finals, and ensuring a top-8 finish thanks to Tuesday’s 3-1 upset of Switzerland, already calls for a parade down the streets of Riga.

It’s not happening — no way, no how — but if Canada bowed out on Wednesday, there would certainly be a ceremony of some sort for Edgars Masalskis. He’d need to be knighted or crowned king of Latvia — something to that effect.

Regardless of Wednesday’s result, Masalskis will go down among the feel-good stories of these Games. The 33-year-old Latvian goaltender was unable to secure a contract in the KHL or other top European leagues this season and had barely played prior to the Olympics — save for a few games of equivalent calibre to Canadian beer leagues.

From that to now facing the NHL’s top three scorers all in the same game — with Canada’s roster featuring Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf and John Tavares, not to mention Drew (freakin’) Doughty.

Yeah, good luck with that Mr. Masalskis.

For as competitive as Switzerland has become in recent years, its offence was severely lacking in Sochi. The Swiss only scored three goals in four total games.

Canada’s offence has also been underachieving — by Canadian standards, with 11 goals through three games, including six by defencemen.

That was of some concern should Canada have come up against Switzerland, which had been backstopped by Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller, who had two shutout wins (both 1-0) in three preliminary-round starts.

But against Masalskis, on less than 24 hours rest? This has blowout written all over it.

I do have a soft spot for Latvia, given its Cinderella story so far and its connections to Kelowna.

Lauris Darzins, who scored twice in Tuesday’s triumph — a power-play goal that stood up as the winner followed by an empty-netter — played junior for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets. He had two 30-plus-point seasons from 2004-06 and was a ninth-round NHL draft pick of the Nashville Predators, but headed back overseas after his Kelowna stint and has bounced around the KHL over the past six seasons with respectable statistics.

Now 29 years old, this impressive showing in Sochi might be enough to earn Darzins another look on this side of the pond.

Zemgus Girgensons, who is Latvia’s only current NHL player, albeit just in his rookie season with the Buffalo Sabres, was also property of the Rockets. He was picked in the CHL’s 2011 import draft but never reported to Kelowna, opting instead to spend a second season with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL before turning pro last year with Buffalo’s farm team, the Rochester Americans.

Girgensons just turned 20 in January and only has five goals (and 17 points) in 56 games with Buffalo this season. He has potential for much more as a first-round NHL draft pick (14th overall) in 2012, but as bright as Girgensons’ future projects to be, this Olympic tournament is not yet his time to shine.

So enough with the sentimental stuff, this quarter-final is Canada’s game to lose.

Canada’s victories have been from scores of 3-1, 6-0 and 2-1 (in overtime) — in that order. One of those is not like the others, but I foresee two of each after Wednesday’s playoff contest.

My prediction: Canada 5, Latvia 0. And no, Carey Price won’t need to be the first star — yet.

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, B.C. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.

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