International Ice Hockey Federation

Latvia making progress

Latvia making progress

Girgensons believes team on right track

Published 13.05.2014 17:46 GMT+3 | Author John Sanful
Latvia making progress
Latvia's Zemgus Girgensons controls the puck at an IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship game. Photo: Richard Wolowicz / HHOF-IIHF Images
Team chemistry and coaching are important pieces for Latvia to succeed at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk.

After Latvia’s opening game, Zemgus Girgensons was pleased. And why not? Latvia just defeated Finland 3-2 in their first game of the World Championship.

Two third-period goals erased a one-goal deficit and gave Latvia its first win ever at the World Championship against Finland.

After a 10th-place finish in 2012 and 11th last year in Stockholm, Latvia is looking to improve its World Championship standing in Minsk. There are clear improvements with this team and their approach to the game. Girgensons believes its all part of the plan.

“We don’t focus on other teams and what they are doing,” Girgensons offered. “We have a game plan and need to stick to it. We are successful when we make other teams adjust to us.”

Drafted 14th overall in 2012 by the Buffalo Sabres, Girgensons is the highest drafted Latvian in the NHL to date. After a season of minor pro hockey with the Rochester Americans, Girgensons made the big club in 2013/2014.

This season in his first full campaign with the Sabres, Girgensons was not exactly the experience he’d have hoped. Every player wants to come into a situation where they can thrive and contribute to their team making the playoffs. For Buffalo, it was a rebuilding year with a lot of losses.

“You learn a lot of lessons being in last place; so early in my career it is not great for me to have that but I can say that it is a learning experience,” he said of his rookie season.

At the tender age of 20, there is plenty of room for improvement. Girgensons played in 70 NHL games and clearly enjoys the style of hockey played in North America.

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“I love it there. It fits my game style much better than on the larger ice surfaces here, even though I like playing in international tournaments."

He had the good fortune of working with his national team coach in Buffalo. When the Sabres made a coaching change during the season, they brought back Ted Nolan, who was the Jack Adams award winner (coach of the year) when he was first with the team in 1996/1997.

Girgensons would work with Nolan in Buffalo, at the Sochi Winter Olympics in February and now here at the World Championships.

“Coach Nolan does a tremendous job motivating the guys and makes us think we want to win and that we can win,” said Girgensons.

At the Winter Olympics, Latvia opened a few eyes with their progress as a team. In the playoff round, they defeated Switzerland 3-1 and lost 2-1 to eventual gold medal winner Canada in a closely contested game. For that, Girgensons gives plenty of credit again to his coach and the team assembled.

“He found the right guys who can play that fit to the team,” said Girgensons of the Latvian national team. “He’s built a solid team that works as one unit.”

Girgensons also believes that the Olympic experience was important in the team finally coming together and gaining confidence. It’s that confidence that helped them win their first game in this tournament against Finland.

“We played great Olympics and got a nice win there against Switzerland,” he said. “Our confidence level as a team has grown and is carrying over here. We worked hard against Finland and deserved the win.”

Despite losing their next game 3-2 to Germany, Latvia has the chance to get back on track this afternoon against Kazakhstan.


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