When the final horn sounded, signifying the end of the Latvia-Switzerland game, the Latvians knew they had just accomplished something special.
"It's great," Latvian forward Kaspars Daugavins said. "It's something amazing. Not many people believed we could do it. And we proved a lot of people wrong."
The No. 11 seed in the qualification playoffs, who had previously went winless in their three preliminary games, had just defeated Switzerland 3-1, to advance to their country’s first-ever trip to the Olympic quarterfinals.
“You can never predict who’s moving on because there’s always surprises,” said Oilers President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe, who was in attendance at the game. “Certainly Latvia beating Switzerland, not that Switzerland’s a powerhouse by any stretch but they’re a good team and they went to the gold medal game at the (2013) World Championships and they’ve given (Canada) all we can handle in games. Them losing to Latvia was a little bit of a surprise. There’s always that whether it be in World Championships or Olympics, so we shouldn’t be surprised by that.”
Lowe, who is in Sochi, Russia as a member of the management team for Canada, has familiarized himself with Latvia and for good reason; they are Canada’s opponents in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
“They’re a counterattack team,” Lowe said. “They’re a team that waits for mistakes and then they counter on them. Latvia has certainly come into these Olympics with that in mind and it has gotten them to the quarterfinals for the first time.”
|Latvian players celebrate their win over Switzerland. Photo by Getty Images. |
In previewing Canada’s next opponent, Lowe talked about how it’s not so much what Latvia can do but more so what Canada needs to do to move on in the tournament.
“(Latvia plays) a frustrating style,” he said. “I wouldn’t say they’re as disciplined on the defensive side as Switzerland can be. But for us, we respect all the other nations. I think you have to know what style they’re playing and be prepared to deal with it. I think, in terms of our team, the attitude would be to understand the opposition, have a thorough appreciation of what they do but let’s not kid ourselves. It’s all about us playing our best and following our system and playing at our level. That’s the game plan. Whether it was going to be Latvia or Switzerland, nothing really changes in terms of the coaches preparation for the quarterfinal game.”
For the Latvians, they are coming off the greatest hockey accomplishment in their history. But they are now facing a hockey powerhouse. As the tournament underdog, some might say they have nothing to lose. Whether or not playing a team like that, with that motivation, can be a major factor is a certainty, according to Lowe.
“Absolutely,” Lowe said. “You’d be gravely mistaken if you don’t. It happens. We’ve seen it time and time again. (The coaches and management team) have experience and a lot of the players have experience too. If you don’t think you’re playing against a team that feels that they have nothing to lose, then you’re gravely mistaken.
|Canadians everywhere are hoping the clock strikes midnight on Latvia's Cinderella story. Photo by Getty Images. |
“You have to factor that in. You have to take it to them. They would have played a game within 24 hours, back to back games, so it’s just like in the National Hockey League. When you’re the home team, you want to jump on someone so that will be the game plan to try to play fast and play an up tempo game to try to get them out of their comfort zone. (You have to) fully recognize that they’ve got this far and I’m sure they’re not just satisfied… It’s one thing to get to the quarterfinals but if they could ever knock off Canada, that would be like winning their own version of the Stanley Cup. You have to respect that and understand that that’s the reality.”
"Canada is one of the greatest hockey teams ever to play hockey," said Daugavins. "It’s going to be really tough for us, but we’re going to try to give them a hard time. You never know. Miracles have happened before."
That’s what Latvia is hoping for. Believing in miracles is a faith reinforced by their win over Switzerland. It’s a faith they’ll bring with them to their game against Canada.
"It's going to be really tough for us, but we'll try to give them a hard time," Daugavins said. "You never know, miracles happened before – as long as we earn the miracle. We just have to go out there and work hard and have fun, just as we did today. Our goalie might stop every shot, he's good. You never know."
With that in mind, Lowe and the Canadian management respect the team and respect the story, but hope the clock strikes midnight for Latvia this time. Canada understands that anything can happen after the puck has dropped.
“As Canadians, where hockey is concerned, we’re always searching for perfection,” Lowe said. “The management group knows and the coaches know that things can turn quickly. I think there’s a great deal of confidence around the hockey team but… the margin of error is so thin that things can turn on you quickly. It’s the old (saying), one period at a time and just kind of move along and not look any further than the first period in the Latvian game and see what happens.”
This is the first time these two teams have played at the Olympics since February 7, 1936. It was an 11-0 victory for Canada.