"Hockey in Latvia can be considered a religion"

Article written by Kajs Jakobsons - Community Contributor

Hockey in Latvia can be considered a religion. A nation of just over 2 million, Latvia has been able to produce a world class hockey team which fights hard every year at the IIHF World Championship and will now compete in its 4th consecutive Olympics, a tournament created for the best of the best.

Latvia has never shined at the Olympics. In its initial Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake 2002, the Latvian team came in 9th place. That has been the nation's best finish as of yet, as Latvia came last (12th) in Torino 2006 and in Vancouver 2010.

But this year just might be different. With (D) S. Ozolinsh making a return to the national team at the age of 41 and wearing the ''C'', and with the young talents of (F) Z. Girgensons and (G) K. Gudlevskis, Latvia's got some life in it and won't go down without a fight.

With Latvia's opening game against Switzerland fast approaching, a few questions remain. The biggest question is concerning the goaltending situation. Will Latvia go with the rising star K. Gudlevskis or will they go with the veteran E. Masalskis? Masalskis has been a solid starter for Latvia for almost a decade. However, last year's edition of the IIHF World Championship showed the skills of Gudlevskis and now there is a split choice between the two. The most likely option, and what the Latvian media has been reporting, is that Masalskis will be given the start since Gudlevskis only recently arrived from North America and is somewhat jet-lagged.

Playing in the Olympics is a huge honor for any team. The large hockey nations may not even realize what it means for smaller nations such as Latvia, Slovenia and Austria. But Latvia hasn't come to Sochi just to appear as one of the best hockey nations in the world. They want to prove it.

Note, game time and more info can be found at our schedule!