The Vancouver Canucks have three representatives at the 2022 IIHF World Championship in Finland.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Juho Lammikko are cruising right along with Sweden and Finland, respectively, with both teams at the top of the Group B standings. Finland has the edge in points but have played more games, with four wins and an overtime loss, while Sweden is undefeated in their four games, including handing Finland their lone loss.
Ekman-Larsson has just the one point in four games but has played big minutes as Sweden’s captain, while Lammikko likewise has one point in a third-line role for Finland.
The third country represented by a Canuck is having a bit of a tougher time. Latvia entered Friday with just one win and three losses in the tournament but it hasn’t really been the fault of Canucks prospect Arturs Silovs.
Silovs has spent most of the tournament sitting on the bench as the backup for Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins but he finally got into a game on Thursday when he replaced Merzlikins after a tough first period against Czechia. The Czechs peppered Merzlikins with 17 shots in the first period, scoring five goals.
Silovs wasn’t quite as busy, facing just 11 shots in the second and third period, but he stopped them all and got the nod as the team’s Best Player for the game.
It seemed like Latvia recognized the need to get Merzlikins a rest as they gave Silovs his first start of the tournament on Friday against Austria. Silovs made the most of the opportunity, stopping 29 of 32 shots, then adding four saves on five shots in the shootout to earn his first ever win at the World Championship.
While the highlight reel doesn’t capture many of Silovs’ saves — they’re more focused on the goals — you can see two of his most important stops: a literal last-second save in overtime and the game-winning blocker save in the shootout.
Side note: the 8-bit graphics the IIHF is using for the 2022 World Championship are utterly delightful.
Despite the on-screen clock showing zero seconds remaining, Silovs’ overtime save was necessary. The official clock still had 0.1 seconds remaining as Paul Huber made his attempt on the backhand and the horn didn’t sound in the arena until after Silovs got his toe on the puck.
Regardless, it’s a great save by Silovs, as he challenges at the top of the crease, shuffles back to keep pace with Hubers, then explodes across with both his left pad stretching out to take away the inside of the post and his glove stacked on top in case Hubers was able to elevate the puck.
His best save, however, came on Lukas Haudum in the second period, as the Austrian forward got in alone and made a great deke but Silovs dug in his right skate to push back across in the splits to rob him with the left pad.
Shots on goal were 19-to-4 for Austria in the third period and overtime, so Silovs deserves a lot of credit for only allowing one goal in that time and ensuring the game even got to the shootout, where he only allowed the one goal.
Silovs now has a .930 save percentage at the World Championship, third-highest among goaltenders with at least two games played at the tournament.
“He’s a super-talented young goalie,” said Rihard Bukarts, who scored a goal in regulation for Latvia and was credited with the game-winning goal in the shootout. “We Latvians are pretty good with goaltending…Silovs stepped up to that really well and he played a good game for us. He has a hell of a future ahead of him.”
Latvia has a couple of other Canucks connections beyond Silovs. Latvia’s captain Rodrigo Abols was a seventh-round pick of the Canucks in 2016. With him on the top line is Ronalds Kenins, who played a total of 38 games with the Canucks from 2014 to 2016.
While Austria isn’t one of the powerhouses at the World Championship, that doesn’t mean this was an easy match-up for Latvia. Earlier in the tournament, Austria beat Czechia — the team that racked up five goals on Merzlikins on Thursday — and had a day’s rest between games while Latvia was playing on back-to-back nights.
The win over Austria was a big one for Latvia, ensuring that they won’t be relegated and actually putting them within striking distance of moving on to the quarterfinals.
“We don’t come here to be relegated,” said Bukarts. “Our main goal is to make the quarterfinals…It’s not our goal that we are safe. That’s old-school style. Latvians don’t do that.”
Latvia is currently two points behind Czechia, though Czechia has a game in hand. Regulation wins are worth three points at the World Championships, so Latvia can put the pressure on if they can win both of their remaining games in regulation. That’s very doable against Great Britain but they might have a tougher time against Sweden.
For Silovs, however, this tournament has already been a success as he’s proven that his country can count on him when they give him the call.