In one of the opening games of the 2014 Winter Olympics men’s hockey tournament, Team Switzerland stole its first victory of the group stage over Team Latvia by a score of 1-0 on Wednesday in Sochi, Russia.
The score was deadlocked at 0-0 until 7.9 seconds remaining in the game when forward Simon Moser threw the puck at the goal and had it deflected into the net. Nino Niederreiter's presence in front of the net helped cause the opening for the goal.
NBC’s Brie Groves was as stunned by the first and only goal as the rest of the fans watching:
The first period of action looked exactly like what it was: the opening period of the first game of a tournament. Both teams were not trying to show their full game plan right away, and the result was a slower pace that featured the two nations feeling each other out.
The intensity picked up at both ends of the ice as the first period moved along, but it was Switzerland that found its offensive rhythm first. After getting 12 shots on goal as opposed to Latvia’s six, it was clear that the Swiss were the better team through 20 minutes.
While the game was not incredibly interesting through one period, the fans inside the Maly Ice Palace were raucous, according to Yahoo! Sports' Greg Wyshynski:
The biggest story of the second period was the goaltending from both teams. With no goals scored by either nation through almost the entire game, the focus was on the elite play of Switzerland’s Jonas Hiller and Latvia’s Edgars Masalskis.
Both men weathered the storm from the opposition at even strength and on the power play and each stood tall for their respective teams in key moments. While fans that love offensive prowess were not happy with the lack of scoring, this was a hard-nosed game that true hockey fans truly appreciated.
Jerry Sullivan of The Buffalo News talked about the goalies going save-for-save:
Josi skates around the net and throws one to the front of Masalskis, but no one there to convert it. Then Hiller stops Indrasis at other end— Jerry Sullivan (@TBNSully) February 12, 2014
The third period featured each team pushing much harder than the first two periods and forcing the tempo. While the scoring was once again limited, the intensity picked up and the physical play increased.
The physicality also opened up more offensive opportunities.
Defense was important in this game, and Latvian head coach Ted Nolan spoke to reporters about the importance of veteran defender Sandis Ozolins, via The Baltic Times:
Right before the qualifying tournament last February, I got a call from Ozolins saying, 'Hey, I want to play,' It took us two years to get him to come back and sure enough, he came back. If he didn't come back in that tournament, I don't think we go to the Olympics. He meant that much to the team.
The battle between Latvia and Switzerland was a great way to kick of the men’s tournament, but there is plenty of action remaining in the group stages of the Olympic Games.
Which team has the better chance of making a deep run in the tournament?
While Latvia has a strong team, each of the next two games come against a roster full of NHL stars, but the Swiss have a road that is just as tough. Team Switzerland plays gold-medal threats Sweden on Friday and the Czech Republic on Saturday.
In one of the toughest preliminary groups of the tournament, both Switzerland and Latvia will struggle to make it deep in the tournament.