2014 Olympic Goaltending Preview: Latvia

With less than a year until the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, I will preview the goaltending for each country going into the Olympics in a weekly series. Today I take a look at Latvia, who are just looking to stay alive at the big show. The country has lacked a significant number one goalie since the retirement of Artus Irbe, but can their NHL-absent goaltending surprise anybody when they take the ice next February?

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Maris Jucers:  Jucers may be a KHL goaltender, but he just doesn’t have the experience needed to get the job done at the international level. Mikael Tellqvist, a former NHLer with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres and Phoenix Coyotes, was one of the big reasons why Riga won the very first Nadezhda Cup, a playoff series featuring the the No. 9 through No. 12 seeds in the Eastern Conference and the No. 9 through No. 14 seeds in the West. Before joining Riga in 2011-2012, the Latvian netminder spent four seasons with Metalurgs Liepaja, a team that split time in both the Belarusian and Latvian leagues, putting up respectable, but unspectacular numbers. A three time Latvian league champion with Metalurgs, Jucers has been apart of two World Championships squads and one Olympic Qualification team, but with only two tournament games played between the three, Jucers’ doesn’t look like the guy that will attempt to bring home a few wins for Latvia next year.

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Ervīns Muštukovs: Muštukovs heads into Sochi as one of the favorites to appear in the Latvian net next season.  He has played for Drummondville Voltigeurs in the QMJHL, the Knoxville Ice Bears in the SPHL, the Toledo Storm and the Elmira Jackals in the ECHL, all in North America. During the 2008-2009 season, he played two games with Dinamo Riga in the Kontinental Hockey League before heading back to HK Riga 2000 to play the rest of the season in Latvia. He impressed the management brass in Latvia and was named as the backup goalie for the Latvian National Team at the 2010 Winter Olympic Hockey Tournament. He signed to play for the Sheffield Steelers of the United Kingdom’s Elite Ice Hockey League in 2010-2011 where his performances helped the team win the Elite League Title again. He was also a part of the Elite League Select team that played the Boston Bruins in an exhibition game at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast. After a superb season in Sheffield where he broke the record for the most number of shutouts in a season, Ervins decided to move on and has signed for the Odense Bulldogs of the Danish Ice Hockey League for the 2011-12 season before joining Mora in Sweden for this season. Mustukovs has been one of the most successful Latvian goalies in recent years, winning a U20 Division 1 Group A World Junior Championship Bronze Medal, the Latvian League Top Goalie honor in 2002-2003, the EIHL Goaltender of the Year in 2010-2011 (big thanks to a 46 win performance, as well a championships in Latvia and Denmark.

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Edgars Masaļskis: Masalskis,who currently plays for the Russian team HC Yugra of the KHL, it the most likely choice when it comes to starting for the Latvian National Ice Hockey Team. During the 2010 Olympics, Masalskis became a reminder of the variability of goaltending performance, that even goalies on weaker teams can have some days when they are world-beaters against elite opposition. Proof of that came during a game against the Czech Republic, when he stopped 47 out of 50 shots as Latvia erased a 2-0 lead and pushed the game into overtime before Boston Bruins forward David Krejci ended it. Prior to the Olympic games, Masalskis got a chance to prove himself while playing with Dynamo Riga in the KHL, recording 17 wins in 37 games for the Latvian squad in the Russian based league. He has spent the past three seasons with Khanty-Mansiysk Yugra of the KHL, where he tied his career high for wins thanks to a 17 win campaign this season. The Riga, Latvia native has played in almost twenty international tournaments since 1995-1996 (including three straight Olympic Games), getting named as one of the top three Latvian players for four straight tournaments from 2007-2011. The only Latvian goaltender to ever score a goal (he did so in 2009-2010 while in the KHL), expect the 33 year old netminder to steal the spotlight from the rest of the team when they get pestered with 50 shots a game in 2014.

 

My Picks:

  1. Edgars Masaļskis
  2. Ervīns Muštukovs
  3. Maris Jucers

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

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