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Slovakia avoids scare from Latvia

by Aaron Vickers /
CALGARY -- It was a bigger scare than Slovakia would have preferred in its 2012 World Junior Championship debut.

Tied 1-1 with Latvia after 40 minutes, Slovak forward Marek Tvrdon scored the game-winner 2:02 into the third period and goalie Juraj Simboch kicked out 25 shots en route to a 3-1 win at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday night.

"We had a really tough time at the beginning of the game," Slovak coach Ernest Bokros said through a translator. "It was really tough to get into the game. After the first period we talked to the boys and they played better. We told our guys to keep focused and keep going. It was an important game for us since we want to try to stay in the group. We don't want to get eliminated. We told guys to keep going."    

Tomas Jurco also scored for Slovakia and Michael Toman added an empty-netter with 37.3 seconds remaining to clinch the victory. Juris Ziemins had the lone goal for Latvia.

"Everybody tried hard," Latvian captain Kristians Pelss said. "One shot changed the whole game. It's a difficult game because we could win this game. Hopefully the next game will be better."

Tvrdon broke the tie when he lifted a third rebound attempt over Latvian goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis during a scramble to give Slovakia. It was only the second of 44 shots to beat Gudlevskis.  

Latvia tried to answer back. Ziemins had Simboch sprawling midway through the period, but couldn't beat the post. It was as close as the Latvians would come to tying the game before Toman hit the vacated net in the final minute.

Slovakia carried the play through the scoreless first period and into the second, it was Latvia that got on the board first.

Minutes after Gudlevskis turned aside Slovakia's second 3-on-1 attempt of the game, Ziemins put Latvia up 1-0 when the puck caromed off the end boards, under the stick of Simboch and onto the stick of Ziemins, who lifted it into the top corner at 6:41 to give Latvia its first lead of the tournament.

The combination of 2012 Draft eligible forward Zemgus Girgensons and David Straupe almost made it 2-0 on the next shift. Girgensons took the puck out of the corner and drove to the net but was denied by Simboch. Straupe then slid the rebound just past the far post.

After Gudlevskis stopped Vladimir Dolnik on a breakaway, Slovakia finally solved him on the power play. Jurco deflected Martin Marincin's blast from the point behind Gudlevskis with 4:32 remaining in the period to make it 1-1.

Both teams now turn their attention to Russia. Slovakia faces the Russians on Wednesday, while Latvia gets the day off before facing them on Thursday.
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