Latvian Hockey Team. THE Cinderella Story of the Sochi Olympics.

I don’t post about sports here, but I have to make an exception this time around because I am originally from Latvia and hockey is one of my passions. If you are a hockey fan, or even if you’re not, you’ve probably heard of Latvia’s amazing performance in the Olympic hockey tournament in Sochi. If you’re lucky enough you’ve not only heard of it, but caught some of their games.

A team with just a single current NHL player (20-year old youngster Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres), a 41-year old captain who is listed as retired in the IIHF Guide & Record Book (former NHL All-Star Sandis Ozolinsh) and an unemployed starting goalie (Edgars Masalskis who spent all season without a pro contract with any club), for which it was an achievement just to qualify for the Olympics, played their hearts out against much superior competition giving every opponent a tough game.

After three close losses in the group round Latvia came up with a huge 3-1 win in a game that really mattered, a qualification playoff against Switzerland on Tuesday (Full Replay), to advance to the quarterfinal of the most elite hockey tournament on the planet. It is almost impossible to describe what it felt like if you’re from Latvia. Very few hockey experts or fans gave our boys any chance to be there and their play against the Swiss was nothing short of inspiring. An ultimate display or courage, passion, team play and hard work.

Their reward? Having to play Canada, wildly regarded as the perennial gold medal favorite, without even a single day to rest after leaving it all out there against the Swiss. The pre-game analysis from top Canadian sports network TSN, American ESPN and Sportsnet can be summarized as “well done so far you scrappy little Latvians, but now you’re going to get annihilated”.

Now I present you with what I wrote shortly after the game in which Latvia lost by the narrowest of margins, 2-1 on a late power play goal by the mighty Canada, riding physical play, a total team effort and an incredible performance from a surprise starter in net, 21-year old Kristers Gudlevskis who came up with a whopping 55 saves, many of them of the highlight reel variety (Full Replay).

Kristers Gudlevskis robs Canada with an amazing glove save.

Kristers Gudlevskis against Canada.

**********

Think this is the first time in my life that a loss feels like winning gold. SARAUJ LATVIJA!!!

The day before, when we beat the Swiss felt like an amazing achievement, but to come out without fear against Canada and push them to the very end on about 20 hours of rest after leaving it all out there against Switzerland was nothing short of amazing and very inspiring. Our boys fought for every inch of the ice against the Goliath of hockey and made them sweat.

It’s amusing to see Canadian coaches and players say after the game that they were never worried. When they showed the Canadian bench late in the game with the score tied at 1-1 they all looked like they were about to ask Putin for an asylum. Same with Canada’s GM Steve Yzerman sitting in the stands watching his Tampa Bay draft pick play a major role in almost knocking Canada out of the Olympics in what would’ve been the greatest upset ever.

But that’s Canadians for you. The condescending attitude before the game knew no bounds with everyone completely disregarding Latvia’s impressive display up to that point (even giving Sweden a real game) and promising to destroy us. Would’ve liked nothing more to see the Canadians really humbled because many, as judging by the comments after the game, have learned nothing from it. It’s not 1921, boys and girls. Stop expecting to win every game 12-0. Thank you for inventing hockey, but it’s not just your game anymore.

P.S. Just in case anyone is wondering I have nothing against Canada outside of hockey. Lovely country.

EDIT: Interview with the Syracuse Crunch goalie coach David Alexander about his newly famous pupil, Kristers Gudlevskis.

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