No Trouble For Experienced Latvia In Riga


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Latvia captain SANDIS OZOLINS (8), the 40-year-old veteran defenseman who previously contested 875 games (167 go, 564 pts) in the National Hockey League and celebrated the Stanley Cup title with Colorado Avalanche in 1996, threatens the Great Britain goal during the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group E qualfication clash at the Arena Riga in the Baltic region.
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Unlike the other two countries that hosted qualification tournaments in February of 2013 for the XXII Winter Olympic Games to be held in Russia next season, the national team of LATVIA were not really affected at all by the resolution of the so-called “Lock-Out” situation in the National Hockey League just after the New Year. The Germans, to review, had to skate at Bietigheim-Bissingen minus the services of seven current NHL players while the Danes soldiered on at Vojens unable to utilize six NHL regulars. Now under the direction of Canadian trainer TED NOLAN, himself a former NHL forward who later became the head coach of both the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders, the Latvians had no such selection troubles for their Olympic Qualification Tournament in Riga .

This because KASPAR DAUGAVINS, the 24-year-old Ottawa Senators winger who skated in all seven games (1 go, 1 as) for Latvia at the 2012 IIHF World Championships in Scandinavia last spring, is the only Latvian performer in the entire 30-team NHL this term.

The wiley Nolan, who took over behind the bench for the national team of Latvia at the start of last season after replacing former Boston Bruins farmhand OLEGS ZNAROKS, loaded up his squad for the qualification tournament at the Arena Riga with fourteen veterans who had already appeared at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games held in the western Canadian city of Vancouver. Furthermore, defenseman SANDIS OZOLINS of Russian Kontinental Hockey League club Atlant Mytischy Moscow, the highly experienced 40-year-old who skated for Latvia in the final tournaments of both the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympic Games, was coaxed out of international retirement. 37-year-old right wing ALEKSANDRS NIZVIJS of Czech side HC Lev Sparta Praha, the three-time Olympian who happens to be the all-time leading scorer for Latvia at major international tournaments (16 appearances, 92 games, 17 goals, 49 points), was also recalled to the national team for the vital Olympic qualification tournament by the calculating Nolan.

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Latvia defenseman OSKARS BARTULIS (37), the 26-year-old rearguard who just spent the previous five seasons in the Philadelphia Flyers organziation before signing with Ukrainian side HC Donbass Donetsk this past summer, cuts the puck back against Great Britain’s legionnaire blueliner BEN O’CONNOR (17) of Kazakhstan club Artan Kokshetau during the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group E Qualification Tournament contest at the Arena Riga.
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Not including the captain Ozolins, five of the six defensemen selected by Nolan for the Olympic qualification tournament in Riga were returning veterans of the 2010 Vancouver Games. Three of those five defenders — GEORGIJS PUJACS of Russian KHL club Avangard Omsk along with the Dynamo Riga pair of KRISJANIS REDLIHS and ARVIDS REKIS — are two-time Olympians, in fact, having also manned the blue line for Latvia at the 2006 Turin Games in the Italian Alps. The one Olympic newcomer at the back, 24-year-old ARTURS KULDA of Russian club Sibir Novosibirsk, appeared for Latvia at the annual IIHF World Championships in both 2010 as well as 2011 before skating in nine NHL games (0 go, 0 pts, +3 def rating) for the Winnipeg Jets last season.

Nolan also wisely persisted with EDGARS MASALSKIS, the experienced national team veteran currently in Russia with first-year KHL club HC Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk, between the pipes for the Olympic qualificaton tournament at the Arena Riga. The 32-year-old shot-stopper, who has already been a member of all three Latvian squads to have appeared at the Winter Olympic Games (2002, 2006 and 2010) in history, has played in 40 of Latvia’s last 42 games at all major international tournaments beginning with the 2007 IIHF World Championships staged in the Russian capital city of Moscow. Masalskis rewarded the Canadian trainer’s faith with solid, if unspectacular, play for host Latvia (3 ga, 2.28 avg, .895 svpct) throughout the Olympic qualification tournament in Riga.

Latvia, in part confirmed by the 3-2 triumph over Kazakhstan during the Olympic qualfication tournament in Riga, have easily been the most successful of all the former Soviet Socialist Republics not named Russia at major international ice hockey tournaments since the collapse of the old U.S.S.R. in 1991. The Latvians, to review, have never been relegated from the top flight of the annual IIHF World Championships since returning after a complicated absence of fifty-eight years in 1997. And, although it was Belarus that shocked the heavily-favored Swedes in the quarterfinals of the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, it is Latvia who will be making a fourth consecutive appearance in front of the world at the final tournament of the Olympic ice hockey competition next year in Sochi, Russia.

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