Canada avoids upset, faces U.S. in semifinals
SOCHI, Russia — The Canadians are going to the Olympic hockey semifinals!
For a while there, it looked like they might be going home. By foot.
Team Canada narrowly avoided becoming part of Latvian lore - for an ice hockey player, a very bad place to be - when Shea Weber scored in the final seven minutes Wednesday, lifting his team to a startlingly tight 2-1 victory.
Canada’s roster is made up entirely of NHL players. Latvia has just a single NHLer - Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons - plus former Anaheim Ducks defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh, who still moves well, especially for someone who’s 41.
“They are here for a reason,” Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said of the underdogs. “They’re not just going to roll over and die. They were playing hard, too, especially around the net. That’s why we didn’t get the second and third opportunities there that we wanted.”
But the Canadians did score just enough to survive and get another opportunity. They will play the United States on Friday night, with the winner advancing to the gold medal game Sunday.
The Americans moved on by beating the Czech Republic, 5-2, in a game that lacked the drama and sweaty palms happening at the exact same time in an adjacent arena here.
Politically, this wouldn’t have been another “Miracle on Ice.” But, athletically, it might have been even more stunning.
The Latvians finished last in the Winter Games in 2010 and 2006 and, before beating Switzerland on Tuesday, hadn’t won an Olympic game at all since 2002.
“We left all our strength out there,” Latvian goalie Kristers Gudlevskis said. “This is the highest level we are going to play. This is even a higher level than the NHL and, if you can play here, you can play everywhere. It really means a lot for me.”
Gudlevskis was the main reason the game remained close. Canada outshot Latvia, 57-16. The Canadians had 22 shots in the third period alone.
Eleven Canadians had at least three shots on goal, but only Weber and Patrick Sharp could beat Gudlevskis, a 21-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning prospect who plays for the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL.
“That was one of the best goaltending efforts I think I’ve ever seen,” American goalie Carey Price said. “That was one heck of an effort.”
Canada took a 1-0 lead on Sharp’s goal at the 13:37 mark of the opening period. Latvia came right back to tie the score two minutes later on a goal by Lauris Darzins.