2014 Winter Olympics Preview: Latvia - The Little Team That Could
The Latvian maybe be short on NHL talent, but they aren't going to be a team that is going to be embarrassed every time they step out on the ice.
The Latvian Olympic team come into the 2014 Olympics at a severe disadvantage compared to the powerhouses in other groups. They only have one current NHL player on their roster in Buffalo's Zemgus Girgensons and a handful of former NHLers. But, they have a coach that will not let them get embarrassed in any situation in Ted Nolan, and their round robin group isn't terribly intimidating with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Sweden. If the team can pull out a couple surprises, they could find themselves advancing out of the qualification round.
The Guys You Know
As mentioned above, there is only one actively rostered NHL player on the Latvian roster right now and that is Zemgus Girgensons, After playing a season with the Americans, Girgensons has been one of the bright spots for the dismal Sabres season with five goals and 11 assists in 53 games played this season. He will also be the youngest player on the roster by almost three years.
Even though there aren't any other current NHL players on the roster, there are some former guys you probably know as well. Sandis Ozolinsh, the 16 year NHL veteran, will be making his second Olympic appearance at the age of 41. Ozolinsh played with seven different NHL clubs and in a total of 875 games. He still currently plays with Dynamo Riga of the KHL.
There are a handful of other former NHLers on the roster as well. Forward Oskars Bartulis played in a total of 66 games for the Philadelphia Flyers between 2009-2011. Defenseman Arturs Kulda played in 15 games for the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets. Forward Kaspars Daugavins played in a total of 91 games for the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins between 2009 and 2013. Finally, Martins Karsums played in a total of 24 games between the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2008-09 season. This team has some experience and have the other perk of being the team that everyone counts out.
The Guy That Leads Them
The head coach of the Lativians is a guy that Sabres fans have become accustomed to over the past few months, Ted Nolan. Nolan was hired as the coach of the Latvians back in 2011 and was working with the Rochester Americans at the time of the hire. No one at the time or even as recently as this past offseason would have thought that Nolan would be coaching in the NHL while keeping his duties as Latvian head coach.
The Nation's Chances
No matter how you shake it, Latvia is going to have a hard time getting out of the round robin stage. They play in a group with the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Sweden. The Swedes will most likely roll through the group as the stage winner, leaving the other three to fight it out for the better seeds going into the qualification round. If the Latvians make it past the first game of the knockout rounds, it will be a major achievement for the country.
February 12th vs. Switzerland
February 14th vs. Czech Republic
February 15th vs. Sweden