Buffalo Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons is a pretty low-key guy.
He just likes to chill out when he is away from the rink. At the rink, he hates to talk about himself and will usually try to deflect the conversation toward teammates or another topic.
So it isn't difficult to see that the 21-year-old Latvian is not entirely comfortable with the spotlight provided by his countrymen during the voting for the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game. Hockey-mad Latvians outdueled Chicago Blackhawks fans in stuffing the ballot box, resulting in Girgensons receiving the most votes of any player.
In the voting, the fans chose the first six All-Stars. The second-year center received 1,574,896 votes, more than 300,000 ahead of the runner-up, Chicago forward Patrick Kane.
Girgensons is immensely popular back home, not only for his exploits with the Sabres but for his contributions to the Latvian national team in the World Championships and the 2014 Sochi Olympics. How popular? A Latvian rap group made a song and video about him and his hockey-playing success.
This season, Girgensons has been a beacon of hope for the struggling Sabres. He leads them in goals (13), even-strength goals (11) and shorthanded goals (two). He's also tops among Buffalo's forwards in average time on ice (19:03).
NHL.com caught up to Girgensons during Buffalo's recent stop to play the New Jersey Devils and discussed the viral video campaign, Girgensons' love of his country and international hockey, and what he likes to do when he is away from the rink.
Obviously, this All-Star Game is going to serve as a bit of an introduction to those fans who are not too familiar with you. Is there anything you would like them to know about you?
"Probably that I am from Riga, Latvia. Anything else they want to know about me they can probably find out online. There's nothing too special about me, that is for sure."
I know you are proud of being from Latvia. What is the relationship like between yourself and other players over here and the fans back home?
"They take pride in hockey. Latvian fans are absolutely crazy about it. First thing they always look forward to is the World Championship every year. Whenever there is an NHL player from Latvia, they admire the guy that has taken that route and they support him."
So international hockey is a big deal for you?
"Definitely. I have been part of the national team every single time since I have been 15 years old and it's always an honor to put on that jersey. It's an honor to represent your country and that flag."
I would assume the Olympics has to have been the cream of the crop so far?
"The Olympics were just a different experience, just a different level than the World Championships. An amazing experience, absolutely amazing."
What do you remember about it?
"I remember the Canada game; that was a fun game. Definitely just making the quarterfinals after the Switzerland game, that was awesome. Just the [Olympic] Village, seeing other athletes, being around that area was pretty fantastic."
Was there anybody you wanted to meet that you did or regret that you didn't meet among the athletes at the Olympics?
"Not really. I talked to a couple of people in the cafeteria, but nobody that well-known. I wish I could have met some big guy back in Europe, but I don't follow those sports that much, so I don't know about it either."
Did anybody famous come looking for you in the Village?
"I don't think so. It was just a few Latvians. Our teams and a few speed skaters and we pretty much stuck together."
In that Olympic tournament, Sandis Ozolinsh was the Latvian captain and he seemed so revered by the other Latvian players. What's he like?
"He's a leader. He's a great player. He's a great teammate off the ice. He looks pretty mean on the ice, but he is a funny guy off the ice. It's amazing that I could play on that team with him because I grew up watching him. Just to get to play those couple of games with him was a big honor."
Had you played with him on a team before when you were younger?
"No, first time."
He has to be an intimidating guy to meet?
"Yeah, definitely. If I was a little bit younger, I don't know that I would have said that much to him. It was fun to talk to him though."
What has it been like for you to live through this whole "Vote for Zemgus" viral moment thing that landed you as one of the first six All-Stars, along with five Chicago Blackhawks?
"I've just been going with it. I haven't paid too much attention to it. I check my Twitter every day and somebody is saying something good or bad. I just kind of take it day by day and not really look too much into it. "
Are you going to have family come into town for the game?
"Yeah, they were coming into town anyway. Just my mom and dad. I will have my girlfriend and her family as well."
What are you looking most forward to about All-Star Weekend?
"I haven't thought that much about it. I guess just meeting the other big-time players because there are some personalities in there."
Which skill competition do you think you will be the best at?
"I don't know. Being a young guy, they will probably throw me in the skating competition. That's probably what I am best at, so I don't mind that."
What do you do to relax and get away from hockey?
"You know, probably just go on the couch, play some Xbox, watch some TV. I think most hockey players just do that because you get time off but it is not too much. When you get it, you want to rest as much as you can."
Favorite TV show?
"I don't know, it just attracts me. Every episode isn't tied together, so you can watch it whenever you want to."
So when you are all done playing hockey, you will probably become a profiler?
"I don't know about that, but probably can get some skill out of the show if it is all true."
What about Xbox? What do you play?
"I got Barcelona."