Germany advances to medal round by downing Latvia, IrbePosted: Tuesday February 12, 2002 11:20 PM
Updated: Wednesday February 13, 2002 12:47 AM
PROVO, Utah (AP) - Klaus Kathan and Leonard Soccio each had a goal and an assist as Germany advanced to the final round of Olympic hockey with a 4-1 victory over Latvia Tuesday night.
Germany (3-0) completed its impressive run through the preliminary round with a decisive victory over Latvia (1-1-1), which could have advanced with a win in front of newly arrived NHL goalie Arturs Irbe.
Instead, rising Olympic star Marc Seliger, who stopped 83 of 86 shots in the preliminary round, outplayed Irbe and propelled Germany on a quest for its first hockey medal since 1976. West Germany took bronze at Innsbruck, but since then, the Germans haven't finished higher than fifth.
Germany will face Canada, Sweden and the Czech Republic in Group C round-robin play beginning Friday. Belarus, which advanced from the preliminaries on Monday with its second victory, will join the United States, Russia and Finland in Group D.
Two goals in the game's first 4:07 allowed Germany to concentrate on its tight-checking, team-oriented style of play. Martin Reichel and Stefan Ustorf also scored for Germany, while Seliger made 25 saves behind Germany's sturdy defense.
Seliger didn't get much work against Latvia until the third period, when he made a series of sensational saves on close-range scoring chances.
Germany advanced from its group with little help from its NHL players. San Jose's Marco Sturm, St. Louis' Jochen Hecht and Detroit's Uwe Krupp will be free to join the team for the final round.
Latvia came up short in its first Olympic hockey competition in 66 years. Irbe, of the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes, made 25 saves in his first Olympic match, but he was victimized for two quick goals that put his team in a hole it couldn't escape.
Reichel deked Irbe to the ice and beat him with a backhand just 2:21 in. Moments later, Kathan made a beautiful pass from behind the net into the slot, where Soccio fired the puck past Irbe for a 2-0 lead. German fans waved flags and roared in the packed stands at the Peaks Ice Arena.
Aigars Cipruss trimmed Latvia's deficit with a goal, but Ustorf converted Kaspars Astasenko's turnover into another goal, and Kathan capped the scoring late in the second period with his third goal of the Olympics.
Latvia was without NHL All-Star defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh, who had four assists in Latvia's 6-6 tie with Slovakia on Sunday, but was back with the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.