The Latvians are coming! The Latvians are coming! Perhaps the best fanbase in sport will head to Vancouver to support their country in February. The Latvian Ice Hockey Federation named their roster today and, frankly, it isn't all that deep. But that doesn't mean they won't be competitive.
Most of the team already plays together on Dinamo Riga. If you have never seen the Riga jerseys then you gotta check them out. Here is the team's homepage. Riga is the lone Latvian entry into the KHL and represents the nation in the Russian league. They wear the same maroon and grey colours as the national team and have a beautiful crest with lions on either side of a stylized D topped by three stars, symbolizing regional parts of Latvia: Kurzeme, Vidzeme and Latgale. There are lion shoulder patches and the Riga skyline on the bottom. One of my favourite sweaters on the planet. And, remarkably one I don't own yet. Hmmm, gotta change that.
Oh, yeah, we were talking about the Olympic team. Sure they don't have Washington Capitals goaltending coach/Latvian national hero Arthurs Irbe in net anymore but that doesn't mean that they will be trounced as badly as their juniors were at the hands of the Canadians at the WJC. While Scotty Hockey favourite Karlis Skrastins isn't likely to find the same offensive success as he against Detroit two weeks ago, he is still a rock-solid defenseman who will anchor the maroon blueline with Philadelphia Flyers rookie Oskars Bartulis. Former Ranger Sandis Ozolinsh was left off of the roster and will have to watch the Games from a bar somewhere (oh! ouch! snap!)
There are no NHLers on offense but a pair of guys from the AHL. You've never heard of them and it doesn't really matter who they are because of they score, it will be a shock. The only name you may recall is Herberts Vasiljevs, who made the North American rounds around the turn of the century and recorded all of 51 NHL games while spending time in the IHL, AHL, ECHL and Colonial Hockey League. He has been in Germany for the last six seasons and averages a point per game there but, let's face it, the German DEL is a step below the leagues in Sweden and Russia.
The Latvians open up with a really tough match against those ridiculously-stacked Russians on February 16th - the game is at 9pm Vancouver time but I think its worth staying up to watch. At least I hope so as I bought a ticket to go. Then the scheduling gods weren't kind to them as they play their other two games on back-to-back days: they face the Czechs on the 19th and the Slovaks on the 20th.