Though the Kings representing their countries at the Winter Olympics won’t play until February 13, the Men’s Tournament will open tomorrow morning with four teams, one of which has Los Angeles Kings ties.
At 9:00 a.m. PT, Sweden will face the Czech Republic and Switzerland will face Latvia.
The Latvian team, coached by Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan, father of Kings forward Jordan Nolan, is not by any means an international power but will be looking to rely on its work ethic.
“I’m a strong believer in the ordinary guy can do extraordinary things at the right moment,” Nolan said. “We worked on it for the last two and a half years in Latvia. When I first got there, they kept telling me, ‘We couldn’t beat Russia, we couldn’t beat Russia, we couldn’t beat Russia.’
“Although we didn’t play their No. 1 team, we beat their ‘B’ team just before I got this job here [in Buffalo]. That’s where I was coming back from, we beat them 4-1 and they beat us in a shootout. So we’re right there with them. I’m not saying we’re as good as Russia, but right now I’m a strong believer in belief and if you work hard and you do the right things at the right time. Just look at 1980.”
Buffalo NHL.com correspondent Joe Yerdon, who wrote the feature on Nolan, included an interesting bit about Nolan fostering the team’s identity by encouraging the players to speak Latvian in the dressing room. Nolan also enlisted the services of Arturs Irbe as an assistant coach and invited Sandis Ozolinsh, the former Colorado Avalanche blue line threat and productive 41-year-old captain of KHL-Riga, to return to the team. It’s a good read.
Unlike Slovenia, coached by Matjaz Kopitar, Anze’s father, the Latvians have an Olympic history. The 2014 tournament will mark the fourth consecutive Olympics the Latvians have qualified for; the country finished in last place in the Turin and Vancouver Games. Latvia hasn’t won an Olympic game since a 9-2 win over Ukraine in the ninth place game in Salt Lake City, though the team did tie the United States in Italy in 2006.
Upsets, even if not on the same scale as the United States in 1980, do occur. In 2002, Belarus defeated Sweden in the quarterfinals before losing to Russia in the bronze medal game and claimed fourth place in the tournament. The Belarusians did not qualify in 2014.
Before the Kings departed for the Olympic break, I spoke with Jordan Nolan about the Latvian team. More about Latvia’s qualification, and Jordan Nolan’s pride in his father’s successful qualification, can be found here.
On whether he’ll wake up early to watch the Latvia games:
Definitely. I’ll definitely check out the schedule once we’re done here…and I hope fans are excited to see our dad coach out there, and it’s going to be fun to watch.
On his father’s preparation for the tournament:
He’s been over to Russia a few times and he knows what it’s all about over there. But he’s definitely excited to just experience everything there and take in the Olympics. It’s probably a little different being in it than watching it. My mom was going to head over, but she decided to come visit my brother and I over the break. So we’re all excited to watch for him. I think he’s a little nervous, but I think it’s going to be a good time for him.
On if he is familiar with any of the Latvian players:
I don’t know too much about the Latvian team. I know that [Zemgus] Girgensons is a pretty good player in Buffalo. He’s playing well for my dad. He’s definitely using him a lot at the Olympics there. They don’t have some of the top skill that other teams do, but they do work hard and they do play a more North American style. That should help them out there.
Having edged out Kazakhstan, France and Great Britain to earn an Olympic berth, the Latvians will compete against Sweden, Switzerland and the Czech Republic in Group C.
And because they are fascinating, here are Sandis Ozolinsh’s career statistics: