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Slovakia Shows Muscle Against Latvia to End Preliminary Round

Slovakia has finished group play with its first win of the men's Olympic hockey tournament, beating Latvia 5-2.
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Slovakia has finished group play with its first win of the tournament, beating Latvia 5-2.

Slovakia finished third in Group C with just one victory and will play in the qualification round. Latvia finished as the bottom seed in Group C without a win after three tight games against Slovakia, Finland and Sweden in the round robin.

Slovakia finished the game with a shot advantage of 33-20.

The scoring started 11 minutes in from an unlikely source. Former Toronto Maple Leafs depth defenseman Martin Marincin scored his first Olympic goal after his harmless-looking shot beat Janis Kalnins low glove for the icebreaker in a period that saw the Slovaks control the disk. 

Latvia answered back shortly after. Ronalds Kenins' shot beat a screened Patrik Rybar to knot the game at the 15-minute mark to make it a one-goal affair, giving Latvia a chance after a slow start. 

But the excitement wouldn't last for too long thanks to two goals in the second for Slovakia to make it 3-1. First, Peter Cehlarik, a former Boston Bruins forward, scored at 6:17 after getting the puck on the slot and fooling Kalnins with a nifty backhander. Then. at 11:16, projected 2022 first-round prospect Juraj Slafkovsky used time and space to send a wrist shot in the back of the net to give Slovakia its first two-goal lead of the tournament.

Latvia was outshot 26-10 over the first two periods, so they needed to do something to shake things up early in the third. That came at 42:07 when Miks Indrasis tipped in Oskars Cibulskis' point shot to the left of Rybar and brought his team within a goal.

Unfortunately for the Latvians, the goal wasn't enough to spark a full comeback effort. Peter Zuzin, playing in his first major international event for the Slovaks, scored after Milos Kelemen drew both Latvian defenders towards him before setting Zuzin up all alone in front for the 5-2 goal. Tomas Jurco scored an empty-netter with 0.5 seconds remaining to seal the deal.

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