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Dinamo Riga and fans ready for Coyotes

by Shawn P. Roarke
PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Nobody knows what awaits the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday night better than assistant coach Dave King.

King coached in Russia in 2006, serving as the head man with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, one of the powerhouses in Russia hockey. In that capacity, he made regular trips into Riga Latvia to play Dinamo Riga, Phoenix's opponent in Wednesday's 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere Challenge exhibition game.

"I think Riga might be the most difficult place to play because the fans are relentless, the noise in the building is just amazing," King told "I think they are the most passionate hockey fans in the world. That says a lot because there a lot of passionate fans here in Czech as well.

"The building will be noisy, almost uncontrollable. It will be a huge game for them because Riga is their team in Latvia, so it Latvia against the NHL."

King described the passion of the fans, the flags that will be waving throughout the crowd, the noise that will bounce of the walls, the never-ending assault on the senses with which the Riga crowd will attempt to pummel Phoenix into submission.

That is what awaits the Coyotes on Wednesday for their last preseason game before they start the 2010-11 regular season with a pair of games against the Boston Bruins here in the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere series at O2 Arena this weekend.

Phoenix captain Shane Doan has played in Latvia twice already as a member of Team Canada. He knows Wednesday's game will be no cakewalk.

"The whole place will be that maroon and white they have," Doan told "It'll be a great experience. It'll be a good time."

That is spoken like only some one who has been through the most hostile experiences international hockey has to offer. Doan seemingly glosses over the fact that this will be one of the biggest games Riga, a KHL club, plays this season.

But he says he does understand what is at stake when the Coyotes report to Arena Riga, which will packed with 10,300 rabid Latvian fans.

"I think the Russian league (KHL) wants to prove that they can play with the NHL," Doan told"We realize that the NHL is the best league in the world, and it's a big thing when you come into a town and you have to prove it.

"I think that their motivation is above ours It seems like there might be a little more on the line for them. We understand that."

Actually, that message became crystal clear Monday night in St. Petersburg, Russia when the KHL's SKA St. Petersburg club engaged the Carolina Hurricanes in a spirited, sometimes nasty, affair that ended with a 5-3 victory for the home club over the NHL squad.

"This means a lot to Riga, even though they are in their league play," King said. "When you play a game in any one of the republics or Russia, it's a very hard game because the Russians pride themselves on their hokey and the Latvians have always been independent thinkers, so this is really big for them."

Plus, Riga has a very good team on merit alone.

The majority of this year's Dinamo Riga players represented Latvia in the 2010 Olympics. Former NHLers like Sandis Ozolinsh, the team's captain, Mikael Tellqvist, the goalie, and Martin Karsums, a former member of the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, dot the roster.

"A lot of those Riga players are Olympians and they have some former NHLers on that team," King said. "Like I said, a lot of pride is on the line and it will be difficult because they have a lot of pride in their hockey."

Don't forget, Phoenix is also dealing with jet leg. They just arrived in-country two days ago and now they are being asked to make another two-hour flight and play a game against a team loaded with both talent and motivation.
"I think Riga might be the most difficult place to play because the fans are relentless, the noise in the building is just amazing.  I think they are the most passionate hockey fans in the world." -- Coyotes assistant coach Dave King
Despite all the odds stacked against Phoenix, King believes this is the perfect final test for his Coyotes before the regular season commences this weekend.

"Latvia will be really good and really wound up, so it will be a good test for us," King said. "I guarantee you, even on the big rink, the tempo will be high.

"I think that there is going to be an active and noisy crowd that is going to be against us, I think that is going to make us really stick together."

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