Latvia kicked off this year’s IIHF World Hockey Championships in Stockholm (eight countries play there and another eight in Helsinki) with a 2:5 loss to perennial powerhouse Russia. Miks Indrasis opened up the scoring after which the Russian tallied four straight goals before NHLer Ottawa Senators forward Kaspars Daugavins notched the second goal for Latvia. Those interested can check the write-up in sportacentrs.com/hokejs or iihf.com.
Latvia plays Germany on May 6 and Italy on May 8 before taking on the Czech Republic on May 10, Norway on May 12, Denmark on May 14 and host country Sweden on May 15. The top four teams from each group move to the quarterfinals. That means the games against the weaker countries Germany, Denmark, Norway and Italy are key. The last team in each group gets relegated.
Kaspars Daugavins and Oskars Bartulis are the only two with recent NHL experience and Bartulis spent all of this past season with the Philadelphia Flyers AHL farm team the Adirondack Phantom. Thirteen of the 25 players on the roster are from the KHL Dinamo Riga squad. One other is from a KHL team. The rest are drawn from various European teams including four who play locally in Latvia with HK Riga in the MHL (the KHL’s junior league) or Liepajas Metalurgs in the Belarus League.
The story this year is the how the squad which has limited talent compared to the big guns will respond to Canadian coach Ted Nolan who has a wealth of coaching experience in North America including the NHL, AHL and Canada’s Major Junior hockey. Nolan was quick to impart his style of play - a more physical game where forwards need to pick up their defensive assignment and the results of exhibition games against Denmark, the Czech Republic, Russia and France looked promising including a win against Russia.
As usual, a few thousand boisterous Latvian hockey fans have arrived in Stockholm to cheer on their team.
The IIHF updates their power rankings every few days. A tongue in cheek commentary on each of the teams that is worth a chuckle. Check it out at http://www.iihf.com/competition/272/homeiihf/power-ranking.html Latvia is ranked 12th and realistically will finish between 9th and 12th although Nolan and the Latvian Hockey Federation (LHF) have set a quarter-final top 8 finish as the goal, something that Latvia has accomplished on more than one occasion. Here’s hoping!