Article written by Wil Rohl-Hill - Community Contributor
Teams Sweden and Czech Republic may consider there to be at least 2 guaranteed wins in the preliminary round of these Olympic games, being in the same group as the obscure Latvian and Swiss teams (both teams have a combined 9 active NHL players). However certain these wins may be, they most certainly will not be easy. Expect Team Latvia to bring a few surprises.
Led by current Buffalo Sabres head coach and former Jack Adams Award winner, Ted Nolan, the Latvians will quite likely be one of - if not the - most hard working teams in the tournament. Upon arriving in Latvia in three years ago, Nolan had no knowledge of the language, and could barely locate the country on a map. He quickly learned the language enough to do what he needed -- to coach these men on how to play hockey his way.
"I've learned a few words in Latvian to get by, how to shoot and work and compete." Compete. A word that, for Sabres and Latvian fans at least, has become synonymous with Ted Nolan. He is not interested in guys that can score 30 goals with their eyes closed, he wants players that will give everything they've got for every shift in every game.
One player that exemplifies Nolan's philosophy has played under him many times before -- Buffalo Sabres rookie forward Zemgus Girgensons, the highest drafted Latvian in the NHL (14th in 2012). Even before Nolan's guidance, Girgensons has been highly touted as passionate player that never stops. Nicknamed the "Latvian Locomotive" while playing juniors in the United States, Girgensons is often noted as the hardest working player on the ice.
The Latvians will also have the guidance and leadership of former NHL All-Star defenseman Sandis Ozolins. In 875 NHL games, Ozolins racked up 564 points (167+397), 7 All-Star game appearances, and a Stanley Cup in 1996 with the Colorado Avalanche. Since leaving the NHL in 2008 after battling injuries, he went home to Latvia to play for Dinamo Riga in the KHL.
Latvia will open the Olympics Wednesday against a stingy Swiss team - featuring 2 NHL goaltenders, highlighted by Anaheim keeper Jonas Hiller, and a number of strong NHL defensemen led by Philadelphia's Mark Streit. Expect this game to be high intensity, but don't expect it to be high scoring.
Nolan will likely give the starting goaltending job to Khanty-Mansiysk Yugra's (KHL) Edgars Masalskis, who, in 2010, nearly upset the Czech Republic with a stunning 47-save performance. In 32 games with Yugra this year, Masalskis sports a 2.94 GAA and a respectable .910SV%.
Note, game time and more info can be found at our schedule!