Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Olympic Hockey: Latvia Upsets Switzerland

Latvia and Slovenia among the final 8 teams at the Olympics. How great is that? In 2010 Latvia finished 12th in the Olympics. Slovenia didn't even qualify. Latvia advanced the the quarterfinals by beating Switzerland 3-1.

Who is Daniel Alfredsson? A great NHL player who is an icon in Ottawa and currently plays for the Red Wings. He's won an Olympic gold medal and will probably be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Who is Lauris Darzins? Let me look him up because before today I had no idea...

(Doing legitimate research)

He's a 29 year old winger from Riga, Latvia. He currently plays in the KHL. He played as a kid in a Finnish league. He was drafted in the 9th round of the 2003 NHL Draft by Nashville. He played juniors in Canada's Western Hockey League. He was never signed by Nashville. He returned to Europe to briefly play in the Finnish SM-Liiga, then the Czech Extraliga. He played in Belarus, then Dinamo Riga (Latvian KHL team), and he's still in the KHL playing for a team in Russia.

So he's not Daniel Alfredsson, who has over 1,000 NHL points. Why the comparison then?

Before this game, Alfredsson was the only player in these Olympics to score against Switzerland. In this game, Latvia's Darzins scored twice.

I could go on a tangent about Darzins because Nashville expressed interest in signing him a few years ago, but like many other European players, he'd rather be an established player in the KHL near home than struggle to even get a shot at making the NHL thousands of miles away. This is a trend in European hockey the last few years, and it's hurting NHL roster depth. The star Europeans play in the NHL, the depth guys would rather make more money in the KHL then slog through the AHL ranks.

Back to the game...

Switzerland, similar to other Germanic teams like Austria and Germany, plays well when the games goes according to plan. Switzerland plays to a script. They play very well in 0-0, 1-0 games. However they struggle to improvise when the game deviates from that script. They don't know how to react when, for instance, they fall behind 2-0.

That's what happened against Latvia. Oskars Bartulis beat Jonas Hiller thanks to a screen to put Latvia up 1-0. Lauris Darzins made it 2-0 with some exquisite patience by both himself and Mikelis Redlihs, who set him up. Darzins added an empty-netter.

Martin Pluss scored for Switzerland in the 2nd period, only the third goal scored by the Swiss in the tournament.

Latvia's reward is to play Canada, who collectively sighed with relief once they realized they wouldn't have to face Jonas Hiller.

It will be tough for the Latvians to beat Canada, but they should be proud of how well they've played in this tournament, with only one NHL player on their roster.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

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