Nobody saw this coming.
With this afternoon’s triumph over Italy, Teodors Bļugers (Teddy Blueger) and the Latvian national team have rattled off three-straight wins to start the 2017 IIHF World Championship. Latvia’s perfect record has it atop Group A’s standings, just ahead of perennial hockey powerhouse Russia.
Former Calgary Flames bench boss Bob Hartley has the Latvians rolling and their crazy fans rollicking through their first three games, boasting the tournament’s second-best power play (50.0%) and second-best penalty kill (88.9%). Latvia has surrendered just two goals in the tournament, fewest of all 16 participating teams.
In their first contest, the Latvians edged Denmark, 3-0, on a 27-save shutout pitched by Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick Elvis Merzļikins. Latvia’s second game saw multi-point performances from the Springfield Thunderbirds’ Rihards Bukarts (0G-2A) and Buffalo Sabres star Zemgus Girgensons (1G-1A) in a 3-1 defeat of Slovakia.
Things aren’t going to get any easier for the Group A-leading Latvians, though. Next up on their schedule is a Thursday showdown with Sweden, then games against the United States, Russia and host Germany. Essentially, the “easy” part of Latvia’s schedule is behind them now.
OTHER NOTES FROM THE IIHF WC
• Bļugers is the current Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins finding success overseas, but one former Penguin is doing particularly well, too. Patrick Thoresen, who suited up with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the 2006-07 season, has been racking up the points for his native country of Norway at the World Championships this year.
Thoresen posted two goals and an assist in the Norwegian’s opening contest, factoring in on every one of his team’s tallies in a 3-2 win. He was held off the scoresheet in a shutout loss in their second game, but responded with a goal and two helpers on Tuesday in Norway’s 5-1 victory against Slovenia.
Thoresen’s six points leads the team and is tied for third-most through three games at the Worlds.
• The United States improved to 2-1 in the tournament with a narrow win over Sweden on Monday. The two teams combined for five goals in the first period, as the Swedes took a 3-2 lead into the intermission. Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau knotted the score, 3-3, less than three minutes into the middle frame, and J.T. Compher of the San Antonio Rampage notched the game-winner with 8:13 left in regulation. The Stars and Stripes will take on Italy on Wednesday before facing Bļugers and Latvia on Saturday.