(Courtesy of Lucas Aykroyd) Jason Cirone scored two goals, including the winner in the first-ever 4-on-4 overtime session ever in IIHF World Championship round-robin play, as Italy beat Latvia 4-3 on Wednesday to advance to the Qualifying Round in Moscow 2007. Italy's next game is May 4 versus Russia, while Latvia will face the perils of the Relegation Round for the first time since Germany 2001 that day, taking on Ukraine. 2001 was also the last year that Italy made the Qualifying Round.
Related: Cirone, Team Italy Prepare for Russians
With 50 seconds left in the five-minute overtime, Cirone took a cross-ice pass from Andre Signoretti off his skate on the rush and then fired the puck past the outstretched left skate of Latvian goalie Sergejs Naumovs. The Italians poured off their bench to celebrate, while the Latvians found scant consolation in the supportive cheers of their fans at Khodynka Arena.
"When you're 4-on-4, there's a lot more room on the ice," said Cirone. "So our defenseman Signoretti jumped up and carried the puck through the neutral zone. We had been talking the whole game about getting a guy to the net, and I just went to the net while he drew three guys to him. He put it over to me and I had an open net. It was a fairly easy goal for me."
In the game's last three minutes and 19 seconds of regulation time, three goals were scored in a span of 1:28 in one of the wildest sequences this tournament has seen. Prior to that, Latvia was leading 2-1 and looked to be in control.
But then, Italy's Luca Ansoldi busted down right wing and threw a shot on goal that deflected off the skate of Latvian captain Rodrigo Lavins, fooling Naumovs, and found the back of the net.
Then at 17:41, Naumovs put a rebound out to his right into the faceoff circle and Christian Borgatello stepped into a slapshot that beat the Latvian netminder cleanly, shocking the crowd as Italy went up 3-2. Yet just 28 seconds later, the Latvians tied it right back up when Lauris Darzins corraled a loose puck close to Hell's left post after intense Latvian pressure in the Italian zone and fired it high over the goalie. Nothing was settled in the remainder of regulation, and it was off to overtime.
Darzins also scored Latvia's first goal, and youngster Kaspars Daugavins had the other one. "The game was like a roller-coaster ride," said Cirone. "We get real high when we score to make it 3-2, and when they tie it up, it really puts you back in your place. I think we composed ourselves pretty well and got ready for the overtime."
Italian goalie Guenther Hell made 32 saves for the victory, while Naumovs had 19 for Latvia. Latvia didn't seriously test Hell in the early stages, and Kaspars Daugavins's failed wraparound attempt at 13:38 was one of the better chances. That sequence seemed to wake the Latvians up, and it touched off a flurry of Latvian puck possession in the Italian end.
The Latvians went to the power play at 14:22 when Carter Trevisani was called for boarding. Just 29 seconds later, Latvia took a 1-0 lead when Lauris Darzins almost tipped Oleg Sorokins's shot from the top of the faceoff circle through Hell's legs and then popped home the rebound.
Early in the second period, the Italians took just seven seconds of power play time to draw even. After they won the faceoff in the Latvian end, Michele Strazzabosco sent the puck across at the blueline to defense partner Carlo Lorenzo, who fired it on goal, and Jason Cirone pushed the rebound through Naumovs's five-hole.
That goal inspired Italy to start dumping and chasing aggressively and going hard to the net, and the Latvians had trouble handling their opponents. At the 11-minute mark, Naumovs had to be sharp when Armin Helfer caused a turnover inside the Latvian blueline and swooped in to snap a shot on goal, seconds after Leonids Tambijevs and Herberts Vasiljevs had failed to click on a passing play off the rush.
In the fourth minute of the third period, Daugavins hooked up with Vasiljevs on a give-and-go and tested Hell with an in-close backhand after the Italians had turned the puck over deep in their zone. The Italians had their own chance on a 2-on-1 rush, but Sorokins sprawled to take away Andre Signoretti's passing option to Giulio Scandella.
Hell then stoned a pinching Atvars Tribuncovs at the side of the net after a brilliant cross-crease feed from Tambijevs behind the goal line.But the Italian goalie made a gaffe that almost enabled the Latvians to take a 2-1 lead when a routine shot from the left side trickled through his legs and then got poked over the goal line at 7:32. The referee ruled that the whistle had already blown, however, to the disgust of the ardent Latvian fans.
The Latvians picked up the tempo and at 11:43, their pressure paid off. Martins Cipulis cut out from behind the net, and then whirled to put the puck on net. With Hell failing to corral the rebound, Vasiljevs sent it cross-crease to Daugavins, who banged it into the open side for a 2-1 Latvian lead.
After the score was tied up and the game went to overtime, both teams looked nervous and had difficulty completing passes. One of Latvia's few good chances in the extra session came when Aleksejs Sirokovs raced down left wing and fired a shot that caught the knob of Hell's goal stick.
"Overtime could have gone either way," said Cirone. "It's a crap shoot, and the team that gets a little break like we did can win the game. There was a lot on the line. I feel sorry for them, but at the same time, I feel reall good for us."
Guntis Ulmanis, the former President of Latvia, was among those in attendance, and got a cheer from his countrymen when his smiling face appeared on the Jumbotron. But there will be few smiles in Riga now as the Latvians must battle to stay in the top division, where they've resided since 1997.
May 9th Update
Jason returns home to McAllen, Texas and a small group of fans, family, and friends...Jason is just a tad lighter due to the fact that his Italian jersey (# 34) sported at this years World Championships, was taken from him for display in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Tied for 6th place with the likes of Eric Staal in face offs and leaving NHL-ers Malkin, Doan, and a host of others way behind. The gold medal roller hockey veteran humbly thanking the group of well wishers at the McAllen International Airport expressed his love and respect for the community even after being injured in his final game with Denmark in Moscow
Welcome Home Jason..