Team Latvia was clearly outclassed by the host Canadians by a score of 10-2 in World Junior Hockey Championship action on Thursday.
However the team’s second goal showcased the incredible speed of Leafs prospect Martins Dzierkals (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL, third round, 68th overall in 2015).
In the third period, Dzierkals pounced on a turnover by Canada’s Michael McLeod in the Latvia end, and skated nearly the length of the ice on a breakaway to beat goaltender Carter Hart with a backhand deke. On the play, Dzierkals fought off defenceman Phillipe Myers, his junior teammate who is listed at 6-foot-5, five inches taller than him.
Dzierkals led all forwards on his team with 19:09 of ice time. “It felt really good to score, because the first two games, I had a lot of shots but couldn’t finish my chances. Probably when I get back home, I’m going to tell (Myers) something about it!”
Myers expects to be chirped by his teammate when the Huskies reunite in January. “He had a step on me and he took advantage of it. He’s a good player, so you can’t let him have that step. He’ll be giving it to me when we get back to Rouyn-Noranda,” Myers said, just before getting one last dig of his own: “But you look at the score at the end of the game, that’s only one play!”
Latvia faces Slovakia for an important game to decide relegation status on Friday. Canada takes on the United States in a highly anticipated New Year’s Eve matchup.
The United States held on for a 3-2 win over Russia for its third consecutive win at the tournament. Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco (Kitchener, OHL, second round, 61st overall in 2015) was held off the scoresheet. His best chance came on a 2-on-1 rush, but he was foiled by an acrobatic save by Russia goalie Ilya Samsonov.
“(Greenway) made a great read, he beat (the defenceman) out and it was a great play over to me,” Bracco said. “But Samsonov made a great save. In the end, we’re happy about the three points. We’re looking forward to the challenge against Canada.”
Over the course of three games, Bracco has allowed himself to absorb the Air Canada Centre atmosphere, with visions of donning the blue and white maple leaf, hopefully in the near future. “The first time I walked out, it was a surreal feeling that hopefully this will be home in years to come. It’s pretty special to play here,” he said.
In 2016, Rob wrote “Hockey’s Enforcers: A Dying Breed”, now available at Chapters and Indigo stores everywhere.