Latvia Will Play Olympic Hockey In Russia

From left to right, the flags of GREAT BRITAIN, KAZAKHSTAN, FRANCE and home favorite LATVIA hang down from the rafters alongside the International Ice Hockey Federation banner during the dramatic final XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group E qualfication contest between the French and the tournament host at the jampacked Arena Riga.

XXII Winter Olympic Games
Group E – Qualification Tournament
Riga, Latvia
February 7-10, 2013

Kazakhstan 3 – France 2 …………….. 825 spectators
Latvia 6 – Great Britain 2 ………….. 5,058 spectators
France 4 – Great Britain 2 …………… 922 spectators
Latvia 3 – Kazakhstan 2 ………….. 10,025 spectators
Kazakhstan 6 – Great Britain 0 ……… 875 spectators
France 3 – Latvia 2 … (ot) ……….. 10,190 spectators

final standings
LATVIA ……………. 7 points … 11-6 goals for/against
Kazakhstan ……….. 6 points … 11-5 goals for/against
France …………….. 5 points ….. 9-7 goals for/against
Great Britain ………. 0 points …. 4-16 goals for/against


France’s versatile defenseman YOHAN AUVITU (18) of Finnish elite league side JYP Jyvaskyla and Kazakhstan goaltender VITALI KOLESNIK (20) of Russian Kontinental Hockey League club Lokomotiv Yaroslavl pose for the traditional post-game photograph after being selected as “Best Players” for their respective teams after the Kazakhs nipped the French 3-2 in the opening match of the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group E Qualficiation Tournament at the Arena Riga in Latvia.

FRANCE shot themselves in the foot by losing 3-2 to KAZAKHSTAN on the opening day of the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group E Qualification Tournament at the Arena Riga in the Baltic region. Despite piling up a 38-19 advantage in the shots-on-goal department, the French were consistently unable to get past goaltender VITALI KOLESNIK, the 33-year-old veteran who made eight appearances (3.24 avg, .888 save pct) for the Colorado Avalanche during the 2005/06 National Hockey League campaign. France, in direct contrast, received a rather sub-par performance in between the pipes from its NHL veteran, CRISTOBAL HUET of Swiss Nationalliga B side HC Lausanne, the experienced 37-year-old veteran who previously appeared in 48 NHL games (2.50 avg, .895 save pct) during the 2009/10 season for the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Black Hawks.

France would come to regret this result tremendously, as it, ultimately, relegated trainer DAVE HENDERSON’s side to the role of spoiler for its third and final Olympic qualification contest against tournament host Latvia.


Latvia center GINTS MEIJA (87) of Kontinental Hockey League club Dynamo Riga fails to re-direct the puck deflect as Kazakhstan starting goaltender VITALI KOLESNIK (20) of Russian KHL side Toropedo Yaroslavl, the veteran of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, who made four appearances for the Kazakhs (5.18 avg, .895 save pct) at the 2012 IIHF World Championships in Scandinavia last spring, makes his one and only save of the critical Olympic qualification match with the host nation at the Arena Riga but the former Colorado Avalanche netminder’s fortunes are about to take a dramatic turn for the worse in only a matter of mere moments …

Latvia right wing JURIS STALS (60) of Slovakian side HK SKP Poprad, the very well-traveled 30-year-old who was the ninth round selection (# 269 overall) of the New York Rangers at the 2001 National Hockey League Draft and spent four seasons skating professionally in North America but never advanced higher than the American Hockey League, sweeps a backhand shot past Kazakhstan defenseman VIKTOR ALEXANDROV (23) of Barys Astana and opens the scoring less than two minutes into the pressure-packed Olympic qualification contest between the two former states of the dissolved Union of Soviet Socialist Republics at the Arena Riga.

Kazakhstan, meanwhile, could not maintain momentum in its next match and fell behind quickly to the Latvians when Kolesnik conceded two goals with less than three full minutes having run off the clock. Kazakhstan trainer VLADIMIR KRIKUNOV, the former U.S.S.R. national team defenseman who participated at the inaugural Canada Cup tournament in 1976 and later served as the head coach of Belarus at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in the United States, immediately dispatched aging backup VITALI YEREMEYEV, the 37-year-old veteran who appeared in four NHL games (4.53 avg, .846 save pct) for the New York Rangers during the 2000/01 season, from the bench to stop the bleeding (and 30 of 31 shots put on target by Latvia). But a strike just forty seconds into the third period from right wing LAURIS DARZINS of Russian club Ak Bars Kazan, the 27-year-old who scored a goal in all three of Latvia’s Olympic qualifying contests at the Arena Riga, proved to spell Kazakhstan’s doom.

The French might have still provided the Kazakhs with a ticket to the final tournament at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi and tallied two unanswered goals against the Latvians in the first period of the last qualifying match at the Arena Riga. The home side under the direction of Canadian trainer TED NOLAN, however, only needed a draw by the end of regulation in order to book its place in Russia next year. Perhaps settled by Latvia’s circumstances, Darzins scored with roughly five minutes to play in the second period and NHL veteran MARTINS KARSUMS of Dynamo Riga netted just twelve seconds into the final frame.

Henderson’s team would, in fact, eventually score again — but not until after regulation time (and French hopes of a first appearance at the final Olympic tournament in over a decade) had already expired.


Latvia right wing MARTINS KARSUMS (15) of Dynamo Riga, the former Boston Bruins’ second round draft choice (2004, # 64 overall) who managed to score exactly one goal in 24 career National Hockey League appearances for the Bs and Tampa Bay Lightning before departing for the Baltic region in January of 2010, celebrates the strike against France at the Arena Riga that will soon punch the host side’s ticket to the final tournament of the men’s ice hockey competition at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

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