|Raitis Ivanans - Team Latvia
Latvia isn't expected to go far in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, but it is calling on a large contingent of players to find the 23 best qualified for Vancouver. Last week, the Latvia Ice Hockey Federation released a list of 53 players under consideration.
Of the eight nations that have unveiled a candidate list or preliminary roster, Latvia's is the largest, ironic for a country with only 3,023 registered male players (according to the International Ice Hockey Federation). Finland has the second-largest contingent with 48.
Latvia had only four players in the NHL last season and all are on the list -- defenseman Karlis Skrastins (Dallas), and forwards Martins Karsums (Tampa Bay), Raitis Ivanans (Los Angeles) and Janis Sprukts (free agent). Phoenix winger Viktor Tikhonov is a native of Riga, Latvia but is only eligible to play for Russia, where he has citizenship.
Two other names will be familiar to NHL fans. Defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh is now 37 but will team with Skrastins to give Latvia two experienced leaders on the blue line. He last played in the NHL with San Jose in 2007-08, going 3-13-16 in 39 games. Ozolinsh has also played for Colorado, Carolina, Florida, Anaheim and the Rangers. Although he took a sabbatical last season, in July Ozolinsh signed on to play for Dinamo Riga, the only Latvian-based club in the Russian KHL. Riga is also the team Ozolinsh made his professional debut with as an 18-year-old in 1990. He played in seven NHL All-Star Games and won the Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 1995-96.
Also bringing NHL experience is winger Herbert Vasiljevs, who appeared in 51 games from 1998-99 to 2001-02 with Florida, Atlanta and Vancouver, scoring 8 goals and 15 points. Since leaving North America, the 33-year-old has played mostly in Germany. Last season he scored 20 goals and 55 points in 52 games for the Krefeld Penguins.
The list of 53 candidates includes 27 of 37 players that appeared in at least one game for Dinamo Riga in 2008-09. The highest scoring Latvian on the squad was Alexander Nizivijs with 10-18-28 in 53 games.
The Vancouver Games will be Latvia's fourth Olympic appearance. To reach the 12-national field, Latvia had to win a qualification tournament last February held in Riga. It defeated Hungary, Ukraine and Italy to go undefeated, and 22 of the 23 players on that squad are among the 53 candidates.
Latvia's best Olympic moments have been a 4-2 victory against Austria and a 9-2 win against Ukraine in 2002, and a 3-3 tie against the United States in 2006.
Latvia, which reached the quarterfinals of the 2009 World Championships, is currently tenth in the International Ice Hockey Federation's world rankings.2010 Latvian Olympic candidatesGoaltenders (6):
Ugis Avotins, Nauru Enkuzens, Edgar Masalskis, Ervins Mustukovs, Sergei Naumov, Dmitry ZabotinskisDefensemen (20):
Janis Andersons, Oskar Bartulis, Oskar Cibulskis, Guntis Galvins, Kriss Grundmanis, Albert Ilisko, Alexander Jerofejevs, Arthur Kuld, Rodrigo Lavins, Sandis Ozolinsh, Georgijs Pujacs, Jekabs Redlihs, Krisjanis Redlihs, Arvids Rekis, Agris Saviels, Maksim Shirokov, Karlis Skrastins, Oleg Sorokin, Christopher Sotnieks, Atvars TribuncovsForwards (27):
Girts Ankipans, Armands Berzins, Viktor Blinov, Edijs Brahmani, Martins Cipulis, Raimond Danilics, Lauris Darzins, Kaspars Daugavins, Andris Dzerins, Guntis Dzerins, Toms Hartmanis, Raitis Ivanans, Roberts Jekimovs, Martins Karsums, Alexander Macijevskis, Vladimir Mamonov, Gints Meija, Alexander Nizivijs, Sergei Pecura, Mikelis Redlihs, Kaspars Saulietis, Alexei Shirokov, Janis Sprukts, Juris Stals, Herbert Vasiljevs, Vladislav Vodolazskis, Elviss ZelubovskisContact Rocky Bonanno at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Rocky Bonanno | NHL.com Staff Writer