Feb 19, 2014, 3:21 PM EDT
And so begins the legend of Kristers Gudlevskis.
Prior to the Olympics, few knew about the 21-year-old Latvian goalie plying his trade in the Tampa Bay organization. Heck, few even knew about Gudlevskis during the Olympics — veteran netminder Edgars Masalskis played the majority of Latvia’s games leading up to the quarterfinals, including Tuesday’s surprise defeat of Switzerland.
But on Wednesday, the hockey world was introduced to Gudlevskis as he stopped 55 of 57 shots in a tight loss to Canada.
Which begs the question — who is this guy?
Well, Gudlevskis has kicked around the Bolts organization this year, spending time in both the AHL and ECHL before getting called up to Tampa Bay just prior to the Olympic break, when he dressed as a backup. He was a fifth-round pick at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft that once played for a Latvian league team named HK Ogre (seriously) and, prior to the Olympics, had only represented the senior national team once before, at the 2013 Worlds.
Then came today’s breakthrough effort.
The 55-save epic was a single-game high for this tournament and one of the most dominant goaltending performances we’ve seen in recent Winter Games. Gudlevskis made 15 saves in the first, 19 in the second and 22 in the third — and it was during the third when fatigue began to show, as the Latvian trainer was summoned onto the ice to tend to Gudlevskis just prior to Shea Weber‘s eventual game-winning goal.
Following the game, the Latvian goalie tried to deflect praise to his teammates, but did acknowledge it was probably the best game he’d ever played.
“We did a great job, we tried. We left all our strength out there,” he said, per the Olympic News Service. “There is not enough. It was exciting and hard.
“The guys did such a great job the other night [versus Switzerland], and I just wanted to give them an opportunity to win today.”
In saying that, Gudlevskis did allow for a brief moment of introspection, conceding this was a huge moment in his career.
“This is the highest level we are going to play,” he explained. “This is even a higher level than NHL and, if you can play here, you can play everywhere. It really means a lot for me.”
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