I wasn’t planning on doing a preview for Latvia, Norway, Austria or Slovenia (aka the other guys), but I’ve had a change of heart. Sure, only the top eight countries are likely to be a factor in the Olympic tournament, but anything is possible. Nobody thought that Belarus had a chance to beat anyone in 2002, but they upset Sweden in the quarterfinals. Nobody thought that Switzerland would steal a point against Canada in 2010 either (Canada’s trouble with the Swiss set-up a much tougher matchup against Russia in the quarterfinals). So lets take a look at the other guys!
Perhaps no country in the world has so many wildly passionate fans as Latvia. Ice hockey is wildly popular in the tiny former Soviet country of about two million people. Their fans seem to be a presence at every tournament and I’m sure Sochi will be no exception.
Round robin opponents
Latvia will compete in Group C with Sweden, Czech Republic and Switzerland.
How they got here
The top nine countries in the IIHF world rankings automatically qualify for the Olympics and Latvia wasn’t one of those countries. That meant they needed to win their qualifying group, which they did, finishing ahead of Kazakhstan, France and Great Britain. Latvia overcame a 2-0 lead to France in their final game to force overtime and earn the single point needed to win their group.The tournament was played in Riga, Latvia in front of 10,000 loud Latvian fans.
Latvia has only one player currently playing in the NHL, rookie centre Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres. They will also be with former NHL defenceman, Sandis Ozolinsh, who captained Latvia at the qualifying tournament. Former NHLers Oskars Bartulis and Kaspars Daugavins will also likely be part of the team.
You may also recognize Latvia’s head coach, Ted Nolan of the Buffalo Sabres. Nolan has been the head coach of Latvia’s national team since August 2011 and will be behind the bench in Sochi.
Latvia is not going to a contender at the 2014 Olympics. They will be in tough to win a game in the round robin. If they don’t, that will set-up a very difficult matchup in the qualification round against one of the world powers. If they can get a win over Switzerland in the round robin, that may set-up an easier matchup in the qualification round and perhaps give them a chance at a berth in the quarterfinals.
The real accomplishment for Latvia was qualifying for the Olympics in the first place and I’m sure Latvians everywhere will be proud no matter how they do.
Other Roster Previews:
November 11: Russia
November 12: USA
November 13: Sweden
November 14: Czech Republic
November 18: Slovakia
November 19: Switzerland
November 20: Finland
November 21: Canada
November 26: Latvia
November 28: Austria
December 2: Norway
December 3: Slovenia