RIGA — The Latvian hockey team is teeming with confidence ahead of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Championships, beginning later this week in Germany.
Latvia have had one of their best build ups in recent memory to the annual world championships with 2-0 series wins over France and Belarus and a 1-1 shared series with Slovakia.
The series wins over Belarus and Slovakia have in particular been massive confidence boosters for Latvia with Belarus currently sitting one place above the Latvians in the world rankings at 9 and Slovakia sitting in 7th spot.
The wins over Belarus came late last week in Riga winning the first game 3:2 and the second 2:1.
Arriving in Germany on Saturday, the team was back on the ice Sunday to take on Slovakis. They were made to pay for a sloppy final period in which they let through 3 goals, handing Slovakia the game 3:4.
However they quickly bounced back to win the second game on Monday evening 2:0, with Edgars Masalskis claiming the shut out in goal.
Three major factors have played in Latvia’s hand before this tournament which has spirits high in camp.
The first factor is that the majority of the team have already played together at the Olympics earlier this year in Vancouver. Overall it was a forgettable tournament for Latvia but a large positive was the way they hit their straps as a team later in the tournament, developing some much needed self-belief.
The next major factor is that of all teams that appeared in Vancouver, Latvia contains one of the least changed line-ups, thanks in large part to having no players involved in the National Hockey League (NHL) playoffs in North America. Many teams resemble something closer to their national B team, giving Latvia even further confidence.
The third factor is perhaps the most important. The majority of the Latvian team play together at domestic level for Dinamo Riga in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). While some may consider this a negative, trainer Olegs Znaroks has turned it into a positive, keeping the Dinamo Riga players in the same lines, recognizing how well the players know each others’ games.
Latvia’s campaign will begin against Switzerland on Saturday.
LATVIAN POOL PLAY (all times Baltic)
5/8 21:15 – Latvia vs. Switzerland
5/10 21:15 – Latvia vs. Canada
5/12 17:15 – Latvia vs. Italy
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