Latvia’s Olympic Hockey Berth Helps to Honor Beloved Fallen Teammate

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Steven Ellis/The Hockey NewsThere was no scarcity of No. 80 jerseys in Riga on Sunday.Simply 100 days prior, the town took to the streets to have fun Latvia’s unbelievable 2-Zero win to open up the World Hockey Championship. It marked one of many best video games ever gained by the nation – on house ice, to make issues sweeter – and Matiss Kivlenieks’ 38 saves that night time was a spotlight of the present. Kivlenieks rapidly turned a star, able to tackle a possible full-time NHL season for the primary time in his profession.However that each one modified on July four on the age of 24 when Kivlenieks was fatally injured throughout a fireworks malfunction. A promising younger goalie – a younger man with huge goals – gone.It was a horrific tragedy that put a damper on the early phases of the Stanley Cup closing. Elvis Merzļikins, Kivilenieks’ good buddy, Blue Jackets teammate and fellow Latvian, was there when it occurred on the home of the staff’s goaltending coach, Manny Legace.  Kivilenieks was remembered as somebody particular by those that obtained to know him. On the memorial service in July, Merzļikins stated Kivlenieks saved Merzlikins, his son and his spouse within the accident. Merzlikins pledged to call his second son Matiss. “He wasn’t my buddy. He was my little brother,” Merzlikins stated on the time.However Latvia’s nationwide staff nonetheless needed to transfer on. They had been internet hosting the Olympic qualification match on the finish of August, with hopes of being one of many closing three groups to advance to the massive present in Beijing subsequent February. One of the simplest ways to honor Kivlenieks’ reminiscence was to win the match, and after an in depth closing recreation in opposition to France, that is precisely what Latvia did to e-book a spot in China.It was clearly an emotional second for the staff. Some gamers held again tears. Some followers did not even trouble stopping themselves. Certain, Latvia was the favourite to win the group, nevertheless it nonetheless meant greater than regular. Kivlenieks would have – ought to have – been there to be a focus within the celebration.It is all a part of the therapeutic course of. Ivars Punnenovs, Kivlenieks’ backup on the World Championship, was thrust into the beginning position for the primary time in a serious IIHF males’s match and could not have been a lot better. In three video games, Punnenovs had two shutouts, an ideal 3-0-Zero report and allowed only one purpose within the closing to a decided French staff. Rudolfs Balcers, a 12 months youthful than Kivlenieks however a multi-time teammate on the junior nationwide staff stage, led the staff in scoring with six factors. And naturally, it got here in entrance of a loopy house crowd that missed out on the chance of filling that very same Arēna Rīga that Kivlenieks and Co. shocked the world in simply months prior.It felt additional good for the gamers and followers who did not get to expertise the match in 2018 after Germany beat them to advance. After all, Germany went on to win silver – so the query many Latvians had been asking was, “Why not us?”.They’ve that chance, and in contrast to a number of the opposite extra fringe groups, Latvia does not require a number of NHL expertise to do the heavy lifting. Whereas Merzļikins would undoubtedly be the favourite to be the No. 1 goalie, Punnenovs has confirmed to be a dependable choice at any time when referred to as upon. Balcers and Teddy Bleuger are each key members of the staff, however Ronalds Kenins, Miks Indrasis and Rodrigo Abols are simply as necessary. Lauris Darzins. The nationwide staff has a serious contingent of Dinamo Riga gamers sticking collectively all 12 months lengthy, in order that chemistry goes a great distance.However clearly, having somebody like Merzļikins – particularly with the chance to honor his good buddy – could be a serious increase. As we await a ruling on NHL participation in Beijing, Latvia may benefit from the league not sending its finest gamers and permitting smaller groups like Latvia to have a greater shot at a medal. However many simply need to see the perfect staff Latvia can ice, and that requires Blueger, Balcers and Merzļikins.However that is a tomorrow downside to fret about. Immediately, it is all about honoring a beloved teammate, a buddy and, most significantly, a very good human being. And with a berth within the Olympic Winter Video games, that is a technique to take action. In case you want a feel-good staff to cheer for – a bunch with a mission – Latvia is an effective selection.

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