Latvia pulled the biggest upset of the opening playoff round with a 3-1 win over Switzerland at Bolshoy Ice Dome on Tuesday to advance to the quarterfinals.
While it wasn’t exactly a David vs. Goliath situation — the Swiss were favored, though not overwhelmingly — there is a sense of surprise among Canadians, many of whom penciled the Swiss in as a quarterfinalist (assuming they were filling out brackets… and doing it in pencil.)
Mike Babcock was taking Swiss-related questions today when he stopped answering them and said, “They’re playing Latvia tonight, right?”
— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) February 18, 2014
So, here’s what you need to know.
— The Latvians only have one current NHLer, Buffalo rookie Zemgus Girgensons. That said, there are several players with NHL experience: Sandis Ozolinsh, Kaspars Daugavins, Martins Karsums, Arturs Kulda, Oskars Bartulis, Janis Sprukts and Herbert Vasiljevs.
— Their goalie is Edgars Masalskis, a 33-year-old European league journeyman who didn’t even have a team at the start of this season. He’s a pretty good story, and an even better quote.
“I wouldn’t say that we invented some space rocket,” he said after beating the Swiss, per the Olympic News Service. “They have a good team and they were the favorites, that was obvious. But we just knew that we could beat them and get into the top eight at the Olympics.
“I think that, for such a country like Latvia, it’s a big achievement already.”
— They’re coached by current Sabres bench boss Ted Nolan. He’s been in charge of the national team since 2011, and his guys love him.
“We never had a coach that actually believes in the players,” said Daugavins, per TSN 1050. “He actually makes us believe that we’re actually a good team.”
— They’ve never finished higher than ninth at the Olympics.
— Tuesday’s win was their first of the tournament, guaranteeing them a top-eight finish.
— Latvia has played Canada 11 times internationally, losing 10. Their best result came at the 1997 World Championships, when they tied the Canadians 3-3 during the preliminary stage (a result made even more impressive by the fact Canada went on to win the tournament.)
— Their worst result came at the 1935 Worlds, when Canada beat ’em 14-0.
— The last time the two nations met was at the 2010 Worlds, where Canada won 6-1.
— Their plan of attack to beat Canada this time around?
“We’re just going to tell our goalie to stop every shot,” Daugavins said. “We can’t lose right?”