In Part 1, I looked at Group A's two team you might not know much about, Norway and Switzerland. Now we look at Group B. Group B can be considered the Olympic version of the Group of Death. Tournament favorites Russia headline the group with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Latvia the other three teams. The top three teams in this group are pretty stacked with NHLers or well known former NHLers, so Latvia will be the only team in this group I will look at.
If anyone has any analysis or information about Latvia I missed or think I was wrong about something, feel free to critique me in the comments (HT to BenHansa in Part 1 for his analysis of team Switzerland).
Latvia (a.k.a Dinamo Riga)
IIHF Ranking: 10
Last Olympics: 2006
How Qualified: Defeated Italy, The Ukraine and Hungary in Qualification Tournament
Medals?: Nope, Best Result 8th (1932)
NHLers? 2+ - Karlis Strastins (Dallas), Oskars Bartulis (PHI), Kaspars Daugavins (Split season between Ottawa and Binghamton)
Goalies: This will be Latvia's first post-USSR Olympics without Arturs "I thought I must be like a wall and not let them score" Irbe in goal. All three goalies are from KHL team Dinamo Riga. Edgars Masalskis will probably be Latvia's number one goalie after starting the last two WC's for his nation. His previous Olympic experience is 1 game, 7.49 GAA/.818% in 2006 in relief of Irbe. He is joined by both his backups at Dinamo, 40 year old Sergejs Naumovs and 25 year old Ervins Mustukovs .
Defense: This is a group of players that have played together quite a bit, anchored by
North Stars vet Karlis Skrastins. They also boast the Flyers' Oskars Bartulis and former Devils pick and Albany River Rat Krisjanis Redlihs. All but three (Skrastins, Bartulis and Grizzly Adams Wolsburg's [Yes, that is the actual name of a team in Germany] Arvids Rekis) ply their trade for Dinamo Riga. This will also be the first post-USSR Olympics for Latvia without Sandis Ozolins. While Ozo might have been a bit of a liability defensively (to put it politely), they will miss him on the power play.
Forwards: Again a Dinamo Riga heavy group, but there should be some familiar names among this group. Janis Spukts played for Florida last year before returning to Latvia this season. Senators prospect Kaspars Daugavins and former Bruins and Lightning prospect Martins Karsums will also add to the offense. They will need secondary scoring to compete with Russia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but the question is who will supply it? In the past Latvia could at least count on some production from Ozolins, but this crop of defensemen doesn't have anyone that can prodice that kind of offense.
Key Player: Janis Sprukts - If Latvia has the hope of competing with the Czechs or Slovaks, they have to score. Sprukts will have the wieght of Latvia's offense on his shoulders. While he has some help, the scoring depth is a bit thin beyond Prukts, Darzins, Daugavins and Karsums.
Player to Watch: Lauris Darzins - At 25, the 6'3" 200 lbs power forward and former Predators pick (Lost his exclusive rights, no "Bona Fide" offer at end of his WHL career) is already a veteran of the SM-Liiga, WHL, Czech League and the KHL. His contract with Dinamo is up at the end of the year and he is tied for 3rd on the team in goals. He needs to have a good tournament providing secondary scoring if Latvia is going to make some noise. Given his age, size and experience a good showing in the tournament might garner some interest from NHL clubs, a la Ville Peltonen at Turin. Or he could get a considerable pay raise in the KHL.
Outlook: 4th in group B. Not good. Not good at all. While Latvia might have some of the best hockey fans in the world, and some of the coolest names on the roster, those fans will be left watching their team loose. Watching the Latvians is always fun none the less, they have terrific fans who always put on a good show and it will be entertaining to listen to Joe Micheletti, Doc Emmrick or Darren Pang butcher the names of Edgars Masalskis, Aleksandrs Nizivijs and Herberts Vasilijevs.
Next, I will complete the series with Group C, looking at Belarus and Germany. It should be fun, if only to see how many different videos of Tommy Salo's screw-up against Belarus in 2002 I can uncover.