Latvia is now my second favorite international hockey team, and they achieved that by giving Team Canada a game—a very, scary game. With seven minutes left in regulation, Canada could still have lost their Olympic quarter-final. With seconds left, Latvia still had a chance to tie it up. Canada certainly didn’t steal the game. They outplayed Latvia in every category except heart and goaltending. Team Canada deserved the win, just as Latvian goaltender Kirsters Gudlevskis deserved all three stars. However, a one-goal win is all they deserved. If they’d scored an empty-netter towards the end, I would have been disappointed. Latvia earned every bit of a 2 – 1 scoreline that reflects how well they played against a hockey superpower, a scoreline of which they can truly be proud.
Naturally, as a Canadian, I was cheering for our boys. As a fan of underdogs though, I found myself at times simply enjoying the game. I feel I might actually have handled a Latvia win gracefully. In the opening minutes of the third period, I started to think about where I would fall for the remainder of the tournament should Latvia accomplish the unthinkable. I felt I’d have to root for Latvia for two reasons: 1. As I stated above, I love an underdog, and 2. If Latvia went on to win it all, I could use the old ‘My team lost to the eventual winners, so my team might very well have been the 2nd best in the tournament.’ argument.
Since I live in wildly multicultural Toronto, I really wouldn’t have had to look far to find a pro-Latvian venue in which to cheer loudly for my newly adopted team. Einstein’s Cafe & Pub on College Street, for example, has long been a gathering place for Latvian sports fans.
In addition to watching the game on television, I followed it on Twitter. I find captivating sporting events + Twitter + Google to be highly educational. During the game I used Google to do some research on Latvia, inspired by some of the things I was reading on Twitter. For example:
Another Twitterer thumbed out:
Those numbers could be off a bit, but his general point is inarguable.
Remember when we used to get tested on our knowledge of current events in grade school? Suffice it to say, I learned more about Latvia during that three-hour Olympic hockey game than I ever would have in some bland, high-school history or geography lesson.
All of this of course was tribute to the developing Team Latvia underdog story, which very nearly became the new Miracle On Ice.
A major part of the story, speaking of underdogs, is Latvia’s coach, Canadian Ted Nolan. Passed over for many years by NHL management, he’s lately been given a second chance with Team Latvia and the Buffalo Sabres. These from Twitter:
It’s tough to argue with that.
! Madmanecdote Alert !
A few friends and I met in Pittsburgh for the 1997 NHL Draft, because we’re close to the family of the big fella who went number one overall that year. At breakfast on the morning of the Draft, in a hotel across from the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, a dear friend of mine lunged across our table at me, going for my throat, because I’d been more-than-subtly lobbying everyone all morning to nickname him The Silent Swede. At that moment, with more than just a little hangover to help him over the edge, he decided he wasn’t going to stand for any more of it. Had our other friends not restrained him, I might not be here today. In describing his efforts though, I’d be forced to use words like agility, power, tenacity, etc. The aforementioned Ted Nolan was sitting at the table next to us with legendary coach Scotty Bowman, and both were privy to the scene. I thought The Swede was gonna be awarded walk-on status by one of them right there and then, such was the display. The grand outcome is that to this day, everyone calls The Swede The Swede. In many circles, adorning someone with a label that sticks is quite an accomplishment. My advice for you, if you ever attempt it, is to push that button until intense violence manifests. At that point the nickname is virtually guaranteed to stick.
By the way, the longer version of that story is highly amusing, but I really should get to summing all of this up.
The gist of what I want to put forward is that although Latvia did bring a tremendous amount of heart to that quarter-final game, at least some of the outcome rests on the shoulders of Team Canada. We do, and perhaps should, expect more from our hockey boys. They’d better figure out how to score more than one goal every 27 shots before Friday’s game, because Team U.S.A. won’t need anywhere near the heart Latvia brought if they don’t.