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2017 World Junior Hockey Championship: Team Latvia preview

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After a four-year absence, Latvia returns to the Top Division.

Winter Olympics X

Latvia is returning to the under-20 Men’s World Ice Hockey Championships for the first time since 2013, a feat they accomplished by winning the 2016 Division-1 Under-20 Men’s World Ice Hockey Championships. The team features plenty of returning veterans.

While they will not outwardly say it, the goal of Latvia is simple: do not finish last and get regulated again. This means the preliminary round is not as important as the regulation round, where they have to focus on winning enough games to remain in the top division for another year. To do this they will require strong goaltending and will need to be opportunistic, if not consistent, when it comes to goal-scoring.

Roster

Team Latvia

Player Position Club Team
Player Position Club Team
Gustavs Davis Grigals G HK Riga
Mareks Egils Mitens G Aston Rebels
Denijs Romanovskis G HS Riga
Karlis Cukste D Quinnipiac University
Eduards Hugo Jansons D HK Zemgale
Gvido Jansons D Aston Rebels
Maksims Ponomarenko D Lorenskog
Kristians Rubins D Medicine Hat Tigers
Tomass Zeile D Shreveport Mudbugs
Rimants Zeilis D HK Riga
Kristaps Zile D HK Riga
Valters Apfelbaums F Prizma Riga
Rudolfs Balcers F Kamloops Blazers
Roberts Baranovskis F HK Riga
Ricards Bernhards F Springfield Junior Blues
Roberts Blugers F Fairbanks Icedogs
Filips Buncis F Johnstown Tomahawks
Martins Dzierkals F Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Erlends Klavins F Omaha Lancers
Renars Krastenbergs F Oshawa Generals
Rihards Puide F GCK Lions Zurich
Deniss Smirnovs F Geneve-Servette
Eduards Tralmaks F Chicago Steel

Head Coach: Eriks Miluns

Strengths

Most of Latvia’s players play in North America (15) or in the MHL. There are a few potential players who play in the Latvian league, but most have chosen to go to foreign leagues to get their playing experience. One of these players is defenceman Kristaps Zile, who has split this season between Dynamo Riga of the KHL and HK Riga of the MHL. In the MHL he as 12 points in 15 games, while he has 1 point in 15 games in the KHL. Zile is a potential captain for the team as well, seeing as he captained them to their triumph last year that led to them being in the top division this year.

Weaknesses

Like most teams who have moved up from Division 1, scoring will be an issue in the preliminary round. After that, the Latvians will have to stay focused on their ultimate goal of not being regulated and make sure their defence is up to par for the rest of the tournament. Simply put, it will take a monumental team effort to keep pace with their opponents.

X-Factor

Goaltending. Like all tournament underdogs, goaltending can lead a team to an upset. You’ll remember that Latvia almost did this to Canada in the quarterfinal at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, on the strength of Kristers Gudlevskis. If Latvia wants to upset a team in this tournament, they are going to have to rely on their goaltending to help keep the team in the game throughout the inevitable flow of shots that will find their way towards the net.