The Latvians never say die: 2014 Memorial Cup Champions, Edgars Kulda and the Edmonton Oil Kings

Living in Eastern Ontario has its perks especially when it comes to hockey. I get the best of both worlds with complete Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League coverage almost 24/7. Same with the NHL, most games I watch are from teams on the east coast. Naturally, I’ve developed a bit of an east coast bias if you will.

(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The beauty of tournaments like the Memorial Cup, Subway Supers Series and even the Stanley Cup Playoffs allow me, well, more like force me to pay attention and watch west coast teams. It’s fantastic because it’s like watching hockey and following teams for the first time all over again.

Case in point: Edmonton Oil Kings.

I’m not up to snuff on my Western Hockey League prowess as I’d like to be. I have an OHL bias as most Ontarians do but I’m not ignorant to the fact that there are some mighty powerful teams on the other side of the country.

The Oil Kings fit that bill. What they pulled off in the 2014 Mastercard Memorial Cup was nothing less of extrodinary. They faced and conquered elimination twice on their journey and with elite level goaltending pulled off a championship upset over my OHL’s Guelph Storm. Long story short, on paper, they weren’t supposed to get this far.

The MVP of the tournament however came as another shock. Edgars Kulda, an undrafted Latvian out of the capital city of Riga, proved that one should keep a watchful eye on this emerging hockey country. He notched an impressive four goals and totaled seven points. Three came at the hands of the Guelph Storm in the championship game.

kulda_edgars_edmonton_oil_kings_2012-13_oilkings_ca_11Maybe it was the memory of his fellow countryman and Oil King team mate, Kristians Pelss, who drowned last summer that encouraged his impressive game. Whatever the case Kulda has made his mold this year and maybe, just maybe, an NHL team will take notice and select him this year in Philadelphia.

It seems like 2014 has been the year of Latvia. From Kristers Gudlevskis becoming the first goaltender to suit up for an ECHL, AHL, NHL and Olympic game in one season, from the Ted Nolan coached Team Latvia that narrowly conquered the might team Canada at the Sochi Olympics to the emerging presence in the junior ranks of Edgars Kulda, the hockey world shouldn’t be shocked no longer.

Latvia knows its hockey and they’re only going to get stronger.

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Sochi 2014: Team Latvia

LatviaAnother surprise entry into the 2014 Sochi Olympics is Team Latvia who qualified at the beginning of this year.

The majority of the team is made up of players from Dinamo Riga of the KHL. Lone NHLer Arturs Kulda of the Winnipeg Jets could easily make an impact on the blue line with being paired up with Georgijs Pujacs or Kristaps Sotnieks from Riga.

From the forwards perspective, Latvia has sharpshooter Zemgus Girgensons who spent last season in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans. He was drafted 14th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2012 and hasn’t looked back at his homeland since.

Jānis Sprukts is another powerful forward who spent some of his junior years with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. He’s also had stints with Rochester Americans, Florida Panthers, Dinamo Riga and is currently playing for CSKA Moscow in the KHL.

Team Latvia is actually head manned by Canadian Ted Nolan for the past two years. Nolan has had a bit of a controversial NHL career but a success coaching one. The Latvians must have seen something in Nolan as he’s been their bench boss since 2011.

Of course we can’t go without mentioning one of my favourite hockey Latvians, Arthurs Irbe. Although he’s retired, I’m sure he will be apart of the Olympic program in some way, shape or form. Goalie coach? We can only hope.