By Warren Kosel
The first weekend of the 2017 IIHF World Championship is in the books, and through the first three games of the tournament, former Rochester Americans are making quite the splash at the annual event.
The biggest storyline thus far is that of the Latvian national team, which along with Canada, remains unbeaten in regulation through its first two games of the tournament and sits second in the Group A standings with six points. More impressively, both of Latvia’s victories, beginning with a 3-0 shutout win over Denmark on Saturday, have come against teams that were placed ahead of them in the pre-tournament world ranking. Having outscored their opponents 6-1, the hot start marks the first time that Latvia has won its first two games since joining the top group for the World Championship in 1997.
Zemgus Girgensons and Janis Sprukts each have a goal and an assist in two games for Latvia with Girgensons picking up both his points while earning Player of the Game honors in the 3-1 win over Slovakia on Sunday. Sprukts also had a goal in the game, which gave the Latvians an early 1-0 lead midway through the first period. Girgensons then tallied on the power-play 7:26 into the second, drifting into the slot and one-timing the puck in to make it 2-0.
LATVIA (3), SLOVAKIA (1)
Entering the week, Latvia has the second-best power-play in the tournament, scoring four times on nine man-advantage opportunities for a 44.4% success rate.
Evgenii Dadonov and Russia, which too is undefeated through its first three games, moved ahead of Latvia in Group A after a 6-3 win over Belarus earlier today. After opening the tournament with a 2-1 overtime win over Sweden, Russia entered play today coming off a dominating 10-1 rout of Italy, which included a five-goal third-period, marking the most lopsided victory the event has seen in recent years. Russia joins Latvia, Canada and Switzerland as the only four unbeaten teams in the tournament. The Russians have also outscored their opposition 18-5 through their first three games.
RUSSIA (10), ITALY (1)
Dadonov has one goal – the game-winner in Sunday’s win over Italy – and one assist to go along with five shots in three games.
Michal Repik and the Czech Republic have split their first two games of the tournament, first dropping a 4-1 decision to Canada before responding with a convincing 6-1 win over Belarus in Group B competition. Repik, a former second-round pick of the Florida Panthers in 2007, has recorded one assist while skating 24:17 in two games with the Czechs.
The Czech Republic and Finland square off later today while Girgensons and Sprukts look to make it three in a row as Latvia takes on Italy at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning.