Latvian Hockey News Report

By Didzis Rudmanis

Posts Tagged ‘Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

Hvorostinins and Birzins return to Latvia

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Latvian hockey players forward Vitalijs Hvorostinins and defender Ricards Birzins have left their clubs and returned to Latvia. While Hvorostinins played for the Val-d’Ior Foreurs of the QMJHL, Birzins spent the larger part of the season with Beibarys Atyrau of the Kazakh league.

18-year-old Hvorostinins who was picked this summer by Foreurs during the 2010 CHL Import Draft has returned to Latvia, rejoining DHK Latgale of the Latvian league, and playing already his first game with the club. Hvorostinins already played for DHK Latgale last season. For a longer period of time Hvorostinins was injured, managing to play only three games for the Val-d’Ior Foreurs, however he did not manage to earn a single point.

In the same time, defender Ricards Birzins has decided to leave Beibarys Atyrau. As of mid-December (latest statistics I got hold of) Birzins had been dressed only for 10 out of 30 games played at that moment. The lack of trust from the coaching staff must have been the main reason why Birzins has left the club. Ricards has now returned to Riga. As January 31 which is the trade deadline for majority of leagues in Europe is drawing closer and closer, hopefully Ricards will manage to find a new club.

Mustukovs: I don’t see myself playing for the national team

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Ervins Mustukovs is a 26-year-old Latvian goalie, who is one of the top Latvian goaltenders at the moment. He is currently having a tremendous season with the Sheffield Steelers of the EIHL. For the previous two seasons he served as the third goalie of KHL’s Dinamo Riga, but never managed to gain the trust of the head coach Julius Supler, only playing two games for the club. Earlier this year Mustukovs also made the Latvian Olympic roster at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but, serving as the second goalie behind Edgars Masalskis back, failed to spend even a minute in the crease.

In this interview Ervins talks not only about the current season with Sheffield, but also touches the issues of Latvian national team, Dinamo Riga, his own future.

You signed the contract with Sheffield already in May, which somehow indicates that you had decided to leave Dinamo already prior the end of the season. Is it true?

– Yes, it is true. Even though I was willing to play for Dinamo Riga and prove myself, I did not manage to see that chance coming. I had no other options but to search for a new club where to play, as I did not want to stay as the third goalie of Dinamo Riga already for the third straight season. Clubs from several leagues (also Kazakh league and French Ligue Magnus) offered me contracts, however, I gave preference to the EIHL and the Sheffield Steelers.

What were the reasons which led you to playing abroad?

– Well, they were all well-known – despite the fact that I wanted to play for Dinamo Riga, I did not gain the trust of the coaching staff. I did not want to stay without playing anymore, and chose to try my luck elsewhere in Europe. Sheffield came up with an offer of decent wage, great city, arena, league and, more importantly, many shots on goals, as well as the ability to play regularly, which, in my opinion, are the most important issues for a goaltender.

When you signed the contract with Steelers, did you imagine that the season would turn out as successfully as it has done?

– To be honest, at that moment I did not really think about that. For me the most important part was to find a club where I could play regularly. Sheffield offered that. I hoped that I would be able to give a taste of my quality, but you could never know, how it would actually turn out.

How would you evaluate the level of EIHL, compared to the Belarusian Extraleague, where you played previously?

– The level is great, I am not complaining. I believe that for a goaltender it is way better and interesting to play in EIHL rather than Belarus – there are way more games, many shots on goals and it is always more breathtaking, when there is a solid Canadian goalie standing in the opposite net. I am not ready to judge the players, however, I know that the hockey is very much different than the one played in Belarus – here the game is more aggressive, all the players are rushing forward, shooting from every angle imaginable, playing with only three shifts. Yesterday’s game between Metalurgs Liepaja and Coventry Blaze [Continental Cup third round, Coventry won 6:1] was not the easiest one for Liepaja. Obviously, we can not evaluate two leagues out of this single game, but, clearly, people in England know how to play ice hockey.

Recently Ben Simon, the head coach of Steelers, announced that he would not trade you for any other goaltender of the EIHL. What does it mean to you? Also, do you believe you would maintain the trust of Simon, if you played several rather unsuccessful games in a row?

– Similarly to every other goaltender, it means a lot, when a coach trusts you. Despite that, I try not to think about that too much. I want to play hockey, and that is currently the most important thing. Coaches in this league avoid saying anything negative to their goalies, it was the same in the ECHL, yet I do not live in an euphoria because of that. After all, you can never know, how the season will develop. The attitude towards you can always change according to your performance.

In early October you had a chance to play against Boston Bruins. Why did the coach decide to  send you in the net just three minutes before the regulation?

– It was a decision made by him. Probably because I took the trip to Belfast and coach gave me a chance to appear on the scoresheet.

If the game was held in Sheffield, would you have started it in the net, not on the bench?

– If the game was held in Sheffield, most likely I would have been standing in the net. Still, it is only normal, as every coach in the most crucial games plays a goalie, who he trusts the most and who he knows the best. Why should a Belfast Giants coach send a Latvian goalie in the net, if he has a solid British national team player Stephen Murphy on the roster?

Sheffield has the largest arena in the EIHL – do they have also the best fans?

– No, I will not state it only because I play in Sheffield. Still, several EIHL teams have really great fans and Steelers is not an exception. Also Nottingham and Belfast have great fans. All these cities have wonderful arenas and a great support, where their fans follow to their team away tours even to the most distant cities. I would really thank them about that. It is always pleasant to play in front of overcrowded arenas.

You made the Latvian Olympic roster at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, however it was Martins Raitums and Edgars Lusins, who made the 2010 World championship roster. Where do you currently see yourself in the context of the national team?

– I am really not willing to recall Vancouver. I was glad that I made the roster, but right there the positive memories about the Olympic Games ended. As soon as the Olympics finished, I knew that Znaroks would not choose me for the World championship in Mannheim. Frankly speaking, currently I do not see myself in the national team at all. Nobody has ever talked to me about that and it does not seem that anything is going to change. I have played in QMJHL, SPHL, ECHL, which somebody might think requires no effort, however I will reveal a secret – for a Latvian goalie on his own it is not that easy – that is why I was never clear, when nobody from the national team took any interest in me. If any of the younger goalies played in any of those leagues, he would be on the national team already for some time now and made a national hero.

How do you evaluate the fact that the Latvian national team did not use the November break to play any exhibition games, in order to test the nearest reserves of the team?

– I do not believe that such tournaments or exhibition games are necessary at all, and they are the least necessary in November. Everything is decided already before these games anyway. If a game would be won, it would be forgotten easily, however if you let in some unfortunate mistakes, everybody would remember it and remember it for a long time coming. A great example – when I had a 1:0 shutout against the Danish team, nobody cared, as ‘they were only Danes – not that much of shots on goal, etc.’, however, when I let four goals in against the Germans [right before leaving to Vancouver Olympics], people were willing to send me home. People came up with the most unrealistic things, saying that I lack attitude, regular playing, that I do not talk to the teammates. After all, who cares in what form a player is in November, if he has to play in April? Until then everything can change.

Three years ago in an interview you said that the younger goalies should take any opportunity to move to the North American leagues. Now, when your North American career is at least temporarily finished and you have gained more experience, do you still think that way?

– I still believe the younger goalies should go to North America, however they should do it only if they actually have an opportunity to play there at a decent level. It is rather hard to make it even to the SPHL, as they really do not need a Latvian goalie, who they have never heard of. As long as you are not head and shoulders above, they will still prefer a native goalie.

I would like to think that EIHL is not the top of your ambitions? How do you currently look towards the future – where would you like to see yourself playing in three, four seasons?

– I would certainly love to play for Dinamo. That would be very joyful and a great honour, but you can never know, how everything will turn out. A top European league would be fine as well.

I wish you the very best!

Pelss talks about his own past

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Once Edmonton Oilers had picked Latvian forward Kristians Pelss in the seventh round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, a lot of people wondered, who is this kid. As months passed and Pelss arrived to Edmonton, some of them were resolved, but not a lot about his earlier days was learned. We now offer not only some background info about the player, but also a small conversation with Pelss.

Kristians has began 2010-11 by posting a goal and adding a single assist in 10 games for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL.

Pelss, who was born in Preili, for the first time stepped on ice in Daugavpils, where he began his junior career. At the age of 16 he managed to earn a spot on the DHK Latgale team, which played in the Belarusian league – a professional league, comparable to British Elite Ice Hockey League, French Ligue Magnus or even Austrian EBEL. In 2009-10, when DHK Latgale, due to financial problems, returned to playing in Latvian league, which currently is a half-professional league, Pelss joined Dinamo Juniors Riga, the farm club of KHL’s Dinamo Riga.

Pelss statistics:

GP G A P PIM
2008-2009 DHK Latgale Belarus 31 3 4 7 17
DHK Latgale-2 Latvia 22 9 11 20 24
Daugavpils U20 Latvia U20 8 3 9 12 16
Latvia U18 WJC-18 D1 4 0 1 1 6
2009-2010 Dinamo Juniors Riga Belarus 46 6 3 9 28
Latvia U18 WJC-18 6 2 1 3 0

Kristians also did not mind answering us a couple of questions about his earlier days of his hockey career.

Who encouraged you to start playing hockey?

– When I was eight years old, my father took me to Daugavpils, where at that time an arena had been recently opened, and already before my first practice he bought me a full equipment – by then I never once had skated, but I learned that fairly quick and I really enjoyed it. Before turning to ice hockey, for several years I attended Judo lessons.

Do you consider yourself an alumnus of Metalurgs Liepaja or Daugavpils hockey school? After all, you have spent reasonable time in both of the cities.

– Despite the fact that I gained a lot also during my time in Liepaja, I am without a doubt an alumnus of Daugavpils hockey school, because that is where I started to play and that is where I grew up as a hockey player.

When you returned to Daugavpils, you had just turned 16 years old – did you expect to make the roster of DHK Latgale, who played in the Belarusian league, straight away?

– No, but prior 2008-09 I was coached by Jurijs Agureikins, who let me practice and play together with one up to three years older players than myself, which I am truly thankful to him.

How did you feel, when, being 16 years old, you started playing among professionals?

– Straight away I felt the difference between junior and professional hockey. Still, at least in my opinion, I got used to the professional hockey pretty fast, as my teammates helped me a lot, often saying what I ought to do in different situations.

What relationship do you have with Vitalijs Hvorostinins? [Hvorostinins also comes from Preili and now plays for Val-d’Ior Foreurs in the QMJHL]

– Well, I could say that he is my best friend – we grew up together and for a longer time played together. Also now we regularly talk to each other on Skype, encouraging one another and that really helps, when you don’t see your friends too often.

Three Latvians drafted in the CHL Import Draft (updated)

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Today Latvian forwards Kristians Pelss, who was drafted into the NHL by Edmonton Oilers three days ago, and Vitalijs Hvorostinins, as well as defender Ricards Berzins(Richards Berzins), were drafted during the CHL Import Draft. Pelss was picked by the Edmonton Oil Kings of WHL #19 overall, while Hvorostinins was selected by Val-d’Or Foreurs #30 overall, but Berzins was picked by Owen Sound Attack #58 overall.

Let me just remind you that last season Pelss played for the Dinamo-Juniors Riga in the Belarusian league. Pelss, who learned the game of hockey in Daugavpils, scored nine points in 48 games last season. He also played in the U18 IIHF World Championship in Minsk, where was one of the Latvian national team leaders, although managed to score only two goals.

Vitalijs Hvorostinins, just like Pelss, learned the game of hockey in Daugavpils and, instead of Pelss, Hvorostinins played in local DHK Latgale last season, scoring 23 (9+14) points in 30 games. He also played several games for the Daugavpils U18 team.

Ricards Berzins spent previous season with HS Prizma/Pardaugava 92 in the Latvian U18 league and did not make the Latvian U18 national team. In 2008-09 he also played 20 games for Latvian league club HS Prizma/Hanza Riga. Before this draft, his name was rather unfamiliar around the Latvian hockey community.

The highest-ever drafted Latvian player in the CHL Import Draft was Agris Saviels, who was the number one draft pick in 1999. He was picked by Owen Sound Attack. In a more recent history, Kaspars Daugavins was the third overall pick in 2006. He was chosen by Toronto St. Michael’s Majors of OHL. Last year Daugavins made his debut in the NHL, playing a single game for the Ottawa Senators.