Fantilli's gem ends Latvia's golden dreams
by Andrew Podnieks|27 MAY 2023
Adam Fantilli beats Arturs Silovs for the game-winning goal midway through the third period.
photo: Andrea Cardin / IIHF
Adam Fantilli scored perhaps the nicest goal of the tournament midway through the third period to break a 2-2 tie and send Canada on its way to a 4-2 victory over Latvia.

Coming over the Latvia line with only defender Ralfs Freibergs to beat, Fantilli moved left, right, and left again to beat his man cleanly, then snapped a perfect shot past the outstretched glove of Arturs Silovs at 8:56. It was his first goal of the tournament and coulnd't have come at a more opportune time.

Scott Laughton added an empty netter in the final minute to seal the victory after Dans Locmelis, one of Latvia's scorers, fanned on a pass.

A native of Toronto, Fantilli won gold with Canada's World Junior team in January and was named winner of the Hobey Baker Award for his outstanding NCAA season. He will now finish his season with a medal at the World Championship and is then expected to be selected number two at the NHL Entry Draft next month. Not bad for an 18-year-old.

"I got the pass from Lucic I was in the middle of a one-on-one and tried to make a move and ended up getting a shooting opportunity and it ended up going in," Fantilli said. "I’m really happy about it."

The win puts Canada in the gold-medal game, but the upstart Latvians still have a chance to claim an historic bronze medal tomorrow. For Canada, it's their fourth gold-medal game in a row and seventh in the last eight tournaments. For Latvia, it was their first loss after stringing together six consecutive wins.

"On Thursday, we didn’t really allow the crowd to get into it, but tonight they had the lead twice in the game, the fans were getting behind them and it was a tough atmosphere," said Canadian defender Tyler Myers. "But we stuck with it. I give the team a lot of credit for the way we came out in the third period. We just told each other to stay calm; there’s no need to get tight and get nervous. We just focussed on what we had to do, get pucks to the net, crash the net and that’s what we did coming out in the third."

MacKenzie Weegar had quite the game for Canada. He led all players with 26:48 of ice time, necessitated by Ethan Bear's absence due to injury; was hammered twice from behind into the boards but kept on playing; and, was taken out to dry on one of Latvia's goals.

Arturs Silovs was again the star of the show for Latvia. Despite being outshot 36-22, the goalie was once again sensational, gobbling every puck near him without giving up any rebounds. 

"I’m sure if we’d played the semi-finals in Riga, it would have been a different game," Silovs offered. "The crowd here was pretty good, too. A lot of our fans came and tried to support us, and we tried to deliver but it didn’t happen. We’re going to try to do it tomorrow. It’s the last game of the season, so we just have to bring all the energy and see what happens."

"They're very passionate, obviously," Canada's captain Tyler Toffoli said of the Latvians. "They've been playing some really good hockey, making the semi-finals. They played a great game. We just stuck together and found a way to win. That's what we came for. We came here to win and finish our season on a high note. And now that we're here, we've got the opportunity and we've got to get prepared for it. I think everyone's kind of stepped up in their own ways. And we're coming together and finding ways to win."

The game started in similar fashion to the Latvia-Sweden game a couple of days ago. This time it was Canada that had the puck, the possession, the o-zone time, but once again it was Latvia that scored first on pretty much their first decent chance. Kristaps Zile took a harmless shot from the point that hit a body in front, and the puck landed on the stick of Rihards Bukarts. His quick shot hit the post, but Locmelis was right there to knock in the rebound at 8:18.

Canada didn’t panic, however, and went right back to the attack. They were unlucky not to tie the game when Tyler Toffoli hit the post, but apart from that Latvia was content to play in their end and keep Canada to the outside. It wasn’t exactly sitting on the lead, but pretty close. Still, the Latvians were always one rush away from another dangerous counter-attack. Locmelis drove hard to the net on one rush, and near the end of the period Miks Indrasis has a couple of good chances that were stopped by Samuel Montembault. 

Nevertheless, after one period the Latvians had a goal, something they didn’t have in their 6-0 loss to start the tournament back in Riga a couple of weeks ago. 

They had a nice little chance to go ahead by two early in the second, but Roberts Bukarts’s shot was stopped by Montembeault’s left pad right on the goal line. And then came a lengthy series of penalties that saw the Latvians have two 5-on-3 situations, the first for 59 seconds, the second for 48 seconds. There was also a series of infractions both ways that saw teams play 3-on-3, 4-on-3, 4-on-4, and 5-on-4. But none of those odd-man situations generated a goal (although Adam Fantilli rattled one off the post).

Canada managed to tie the game at 15:32 off the rush. Peyton Krebs lost control of the puck trying to make a pass, but it bounced to Samuel Blais and he knocked it in. That lead lasted all of 66 seconds before Rudolfs Balcers deked MacKenzie Weegar into next week and then put a puck under the glove of Montembeault to restore Latvia’s lead.

Canada tied the game just 45 seconds into the third, however, on a crazy play behind the Latvia net. Lawson Crouse jammed the puck free from a scrum of players, and it came to Jack Quinn. In one motion he banked the puck off the back of Silovs's mask and in, making it a 2-2 game.

"It was a good shot," Silovs said. "Maybe a little bit unlucky from my side, but sometimes that happens. It’s part of the game."

That set the stage for Fantilli's gorgeous game winner that sends Canada to another chance for gold.