Latvia along with Norway will be consdiered the major underdogs this year. One of the few things they will have going for them this year is team chemistiry and experience. Despite being the smallest nation in this year's tournament, this team has a lot of experience as the Latvans have made it to their 3rd straight Olympic Tournament.
Also, a majority of the players will be fimiliary will help them out as 15 of the players are from Latvia's only team in the KHL being Dinamo Riga. In addidition to the Olympics, the Latvia team has surprsily been able to be a regular in the IHWC since 1997. Other then the 2 full time NHL players in Skrastins and Bartuls, a handful of players playing for teams like Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg and Krefeld Pinguine of the German DEL.
In addiditon to the IHWC Experience, the LAT national team has made it to the IHWC Quarterfinals on 4 different times including last year, which had a very strong run which included a SO Wins over Sweden in the Prelim Round. And Switzerland in the Qualfiying Round which was the difference that helped them make the Quarterfinals before losing to Canada in the QFS.
After the Dinamo Riga Players, they looking to their NA players and some of their players that are playing elsewhere in the KHL. Only 2 active NHL players are on this roster as Karlins Strakins (DAL) and Kaspars Daugavins (OTT/Binghamton) who recently made his NHL debut who has played just 1 game so far. He will need to be a be a big time team leader as one of the only NHL Regular's on the roster and have the ability to get the puck to the forwards on a high level.
He's also not used to being a big physical presence, but he will need to be that if the Latvian's will have a strong performance in what a lot experts are calling the toughest of the 3 1st round groups.
For the most part, he's been with the AHL afflaite in Binghamton. Despite making his NHL Debut, he has plenty of North American Experience and international experience as he has already has played in the World Championships twice where he has 12 games in 2 trips to the IHWC. He also had two very successful seasons for the Mississauga St. Micheal's Majors of the OHL by scoring 134 points in 123 career games in the Ontario Hockey League.
Coming to Vancouver with NHL Experience is another youngster who made his NHL Debut this year is Oskars Bartulis of the Philadelphia Flyers. At 6'2" 184, he will be need to be the physcial presence for the Latvains to hold off the much stronger teams from the Czech Republic, Russia and Slovakia in the opening round.
So if the Latvians are going to have a strong showing in Vancouver. The Defense will need to lead the team, with the lack of goaltending experience and the lack of big time experience from the forwards of getting a chance to play in the NHL and getting looked at by bigger clubs in the KHL and in other leagues across Europe.
After two releativly strong years with the Adirondack Phantoms (Then Philadelphia Phantoms at the time) he's been trying to work his physcial play into the NHL, but has been better at this at the international level. Prehaps his best showing internationaly was in 2004 at the U18 World Championship where he finished 2nd in scoring that year.
He also led all defensemen in scoring at the 2005 WJC Division 1 Tournament which helped them earn a spot at the 2006 World Junior Championship. He will be making his debut with the full national team.
Latvia may be one of the biggest underdogs here, but they have embraced that role with they loud and colorful fans. And with the experience in both the IWHC and Olympic Tournaments since 1997 when they made they debut as a top level nation and haven't been relegated once in that timespan.
Latvia Group Stage Schedule (All Games are CST)
2/16: VS. Russia 10:55 PM
2/19: VS. Czech Republic 6:30 PM
2/20: VS. Slovakia 6:30 PM
Here's the Player Profiles for the North American Based Players
Karlis Skrastins (DAL): www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8467519&view=stats
Oskars Bartulis (PHI): www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8471756&view=stats
Kaspars Daugavins, Binghamton Senators (AHL): http://theahl.com/stats/player.php?id=1763
1: Ervins Mustukovs, 6'2" 149, 4/7/1984, Riga LAT, Dinamo Riga (KHL, LAT)
31: Edgars Masalskis, 5'9" 171, 3/31/1980, Riga LAT, Dinamo Riga (KHL, LAT)
30: Sergejs Naumovs, 5'10: 171, 4/4/1969, Riga LAT, Dinamo Riga (KHL, LAT)
8: Oskars Bartulis, 6'2" 189, 1/21/1987, Ogre LAT, Philadelphia Flyers (NHL)
13: Guntis Galvins, 6'1" 191, 1/25/1986, Riga LAT, Dinamo Riga (KHL, LAT)
2: Rodrigo Lavins, 5'10" 185, 8/3/1974, Riga LAT, Dinamo Riga (KHL, LAT)
71: Georgijs Pujacs, 6'0" 211, 6/11/1981, Riga LAT, Sibir Novosibirsk (KHL, RUS)
26: Krisjanis Redlihs, 6'2" 176, 1/15/1981, Riga LAT, Dinamo Riga (KHL, LAT)
3: Arvid Rekis, 5'10" 198, 1/1/1979, Jurmala, LAT, Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg (DEL, GER)
7: Karlis Skrastins, 6'1" 210, 7/9/1974, Riga LAT, Dallas Stars (NHL)
11: Kristaps Sotnieks, 5'10" 176, 1/29/1987, Riga LAT, Dinamo Riga (KHL, LAT)
75: Girts Ankipans, 6'1" 194, 11/29/1975, Riga LAT, Dinamo Riga (KHL, LAT)
21: Armands Berzins, 6'0" 227, 12/27/1983, Riga LAT, Dinamo Riga (KHL, LAT)
47: Martins Cipulis, 5'10" 178, 11/20/1980, Cesis LAT, Dinamo Riga (KHL, LAT)
10: Lauris Darzins, 6'2" 185, 1/28/1985, Riga LAT, Dinamo Riga (KHL, LAT)
16: Kaspars Daugavins, 6'0" 205, 5/18/1988, Riga LAT, Binghamton Senators (AHL)
9: Martins Karsums, 5'10" 192, 2/26/1986, Riga LAT, Dinamo Riga (KHL, LAT)
87: Gints Mejia, 6'0" 159, 9/4/1987, Riga LAT, Dinamo Riga (KHL, LAT)
17: Aleksandrs Nizivijs, 5'9" 169, 9/16/1976, Riga Lat, Dinamo Riga (KHL, LAT)
24: Mikelis Redlihs, 5'10" 171, 7/1/1984, Riga Lat, Dinamo Riga (KHL, LAT)
88: Aleksejs Sirokovs, 5'11" 176, 2/20/1981, Riga LAT, Amur Khabarovsk (KHL, RUS)
5: Janis Sprukts, 6'2" 229, 1/31/1982, Riga LAT, Dinamo Riga (KHL, LAT)
12: Herberts Vasiljevs, 6'1" 211, 5/27/1976, Riga LAT, Krefeld Pinguine (DEL, GER)
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