Tom Kuhnhackl celebrates Germany's opening goal against Latvia. Photo: Jelena Levsina
Kuhnhackl scores late game-winner vs. Latvia
After missing out on Sochi 2014, the German men’s national team will return to the Olympics in PyeongChang 2018 after beating Latvia 3-2.
At was an atmosphere of excitement but also nervousness. There was no clear favourite between the home team Latvia and the Germans, who have so far played better at this tournament. It was a game between different hockey cultures in which the Germans have an 8-1-3 record at World Championships and Olympics winning the last three encounters between 2013 and 2015.
The game already started emotional and Latvia had the advantage with an early German penalty. During a power play with few shots Arturs Kulda had the best chance but missed the puck alone in front of the net after a drop pass.
In the eighth minute of play it was another Latvian defenceman, who unexpectedly had a great chance when the goal was open from the left side but his shot hit the post and the German counter-attack didn’t succeed either. The first minutes were an appetizer of what an exciting game the 10,035 fans at the full Arena Riga could expect.
At 16:18 it was the Germans, who opened the scoring with a Leon Draisaitl goal during a power play. He was left alone on the right side after an east-west pass from Tom Kuhnhackl in a co-production of two German hockey legends’ sons.
The Latvians tried to react immediately but Philipp Grubauer made a nice pad save against Kristaps Sotnieks.
In the second period the Germans started more dominant and were rewarded early. After a German power play Felix Schutz capitalized on a rebound after a long shot from Patrick Hager at 4:51. A few minutes later Latvian coach Haralds Vasiljevs replaced his goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis with Elvis Merzlikins, who was kept busy during the period. The Latvians created too little to come back into the game during the first half of the period until they had some chances during a power play midway through the frame and a breakaway from Lauris Darzins, who saw his two shots blocked by Philipp Grubauer at 11:20.
At 14:55 the Latvians eventually succeeded when Miks Indrasis’ shot from the face-off circle went in during the next power play.
The Latvians were pushing for the equalizer in the third period although the first big chance was on the other side. After a drop pass from Marcus King his linemate Marcel Goc shot high from next to crease but Merzlikins caught the puck with an unbelievable glove save.
Few minutes later Daryl Boyle was called a tripping penalty and the Latvian power play succeeded again. Kaspars Daugavins passed the puck back from the goal line and Martins Karsums scored the 2-2 goal.
The game continued again tied but like it did at the beginning of the game it was the Germans, who were next to get the lead. With 5:09 left in regulation time Kuhnhackl got the puck next to the goal post, missed on the first attempt but then put the disc under Merzlikins’ pad for the 3-2 goal silencing the crowd in Riga and forcing Latvian coach Vasiljevs to use his time-out.
With 2:58 left the Latvians were opened a big chance when Marcel Goc was sent to the penalty box for tripping Mikelis Redlihs. The Latvians didn’t score, neither did they when the goalie was pulled in the last minute, and the German men’s national team celebrated their Olympic comeback for 2018.