RIGA - Latvians are passionate about their hockey. After every game of this year's world championships, the streets of Riga's Old Town became flooded with people, parading and cheering after each win, solemnly marching home after each loss. Latvia's participation in this year's Ice Hockey World Championships has come to a close. The end of the championships saw Latvia with two wins, against Ukraine (5-0) and Austria (5-1), and four losses, against Sweden (2-8), Switzerland (1-2), Italy (3-4 OT) and Norway (4-7).
"We played in a group with Switzerland, Sweden and Italy. We were a little bit unlucky with this. If we had won one of these games our position would be much higher," Maris Baldonieks, general manager of the Latvian National Hockey Team, told The Baltic Times.
Latvia lost their first three pool games placing last in Group A and failing to make the direct elimination tournament with the final eight teams. They went on to win first place in Group G, the consolation group, ending up in 13th place overall and securing a spot in next year's tournament. As the two lowest placing teams every year are bumped from the tournament, after the devastating losses in Group A Latvia was in danger of losing the position they have held for 10 years.
With this year's competition barely over, Baldonieks is already looking forward to next year with optimism, noting that the team gained some much needed experience from this year's games. "We will develop these young guys, they will get even more experience, and we will be better prepared. We were good for this championship, but we can be better for the next," he said.
Baldonieks said that Latvia has a real chance of beating even the best teams in the world. "The difference between the teams is really not so big. Italy, Ukraine, Switzerland, Norway, Austria, all of them are very close. Even Belarus and Germany are close. Maybe Sweden, Canada, and Russia are a little bit better, but we have either tied or beaten all of them before," he said. He explained that in any game, motivation and preparation play a more important role than huge differences in skill.
Last year's Ice Hockey World Championships were held in Riga, constituting one of the biggest sporting events the city has ever known.