Latvia surprises Switzerland, will face Canada in quarters

Latvia's goalie Edgars Masalskis makes a save under the close eye of Switzerland's Martin Pluss...

Latvia's goalie Edgars Masalskis makes a save under the close eye of Switzerland's Martin Pluss during their men's hockey playoff qualification game at the Bolshoy Ice Dome during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 18, 2014. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:49 PM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - Ted Nolan has got his Lativian hockey team going through walls for him.

The Latvians might run into the biggest wall there is at the Olympics when they meet Canada on Wednesday in a quarterfinal.

Latvia, the 11th seed in the 12-team tournament, upset sixth-seeded Switzerland 2-1 on Tuesday to earn the right to face Canada.

Nolan, the bench boss of the Buffalo Sabres, is known as a players’ coach — and Latvia is a motivated team on a roll.

Whatever magic Nolan’s spinning, it’s working and he’s got the Latvians believing they can beat anybody.

“To win at the Olympic Games is something we’d all like to have, but to go a little bit further is what we’re all here for,” Nolan said. “That’s what the Olympics are all about. Miracle things can happen.”

Now, how to beat Canada? Having a win over Switzerland under their belt can’t hurt the Latvians.

“The thing we talked about today, trying to beat Team Switzerland,” Nolan said. “ They’re a good team. A very good team. They beat Canada ,,, last year at the world championships,” said Nolan.

“How do you beat them? You cross your fingers and hope for the best, bank the puck off the boards and if you get one more goal than them, you have a chance to win.”

Latvia jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the Swiss on goals by former Philadelphia Flyer Oskars Bartulis and Lauris Darzins by the 12-minute mark of the first period and then hung on to win after Martin Pluss cut the lead in half at the 15-minute mark of the second.

Canada will have to contend with goaltender Edgars Masalskis, who made what might have been the save of the tournament six minutes into the second period when he lunged to get a glove on a shot by Switzerland’s Andres Ambuhl.

When Nolan got the call from Sabres executive Pat Lafontaine asking if he would like the vacant coaching position with the NHL team in November, he had one big condition.

“The first thing I asked was if I could continue my work here and that was really important,” Nolan said. “To come here with this group of guys, it’s a lot of fun. They’re a good group of guys and I was really happy for them tonight.”

So, what’s been his secret?

“I just believe in paying it forward, I guess. When I was a kid, not too many people believed in myself to give me an opportunity. We had to pay for everything we got,” said Nolan, who grew up on the Garden River First Nation Reserve, east of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

“A lot of it had to do with the way I got raised and the way you want to treat people and give people an opportunity no matter where they’re from, or how much money they have or how small their country is. Everybody has an opportunity. Today was a good day for us.”

The Swiss, of course, didn’t feel the same way.

“We had a great round robin and today was just one of those games, they scored two right away, we got one back but they played a really good game and it was just another game we couldn’t score,” Swiss defenceman Mark Streit said. “This time, one goal wasn’t enough. That’s the way it is, but it’s crushing. A little bit of a loss of words right now.”

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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