BERNE – Head coach Olegs Znaroks is one of the biggest Latvian hockey profiles, thanks to his career as a national team captain, and now as the head coach of the team.
In the three first games in the tournament, Znaroks has been his usual stonefaced self, directing players, and at the same time living the game with them. In Monday's game against Sweden, the Latvians fought, they sacrificed their bodies, and after 60 minutes of play, the game was tied at two.
And Znaroks and his boys weren’t even done for the night. It was time for the penalty shootout. Znaroks, the former left winger, changed his goalie for the shootout, sending in 40-year-old Sergejs Naumovs, whom he considerered the best man for the job. The players watched Naumovs make the saves, their arms around each other, Znaroks standing behind them, showing no signs of nervousness.
When Naumovs made the save on Magnus Johansson’s second attempt the players jumped up and down, Znaroks threw his arms in the air, he hugged his assistants then put his game face, and was back on for the meeting with the international press.
“We won, that is my analysis. A victory is always good,” he says, without batting an eye.
The same happened after their game against Austria. Latvia's 2-0 win secured their spot in the qualification round, and Znaroks was seen exchanging congratulatory kisses with his staff on the bench after the game, and joking with them before the press conference.
However, back at the podium, you wouldn’t have known he was the coach of the winning team.
And yet, for example, that 3-2 win on Monday was their first over Sweden in the history of the country. Their best result in the previous eleven attempts was a tie in the 1997 World Championship in Finland. Of course, Znaroks remembers that game well, he played in it.
“They are two completely different games and different teams, but I think that the 1997 Sweden was stronger than the one we beat on Monday,” he says.
“I think they were up by a goal and we tied the game right at the end of the game, two minutes before the end,” he adds.
Znaroks has instilled a winning attitude in the Latvian team. The players ooze with confidence in themselves, and in the coach’s game plan.
“We always go into a game with a huge intention to win. That never changes. We always play as a team: all for one, one for all,” says coach Znaroks.
Latvia is on a roll in the tournament, having lost only their opening game against the USA, 4-2. But don’t think that the team or the coach are going to be resting on their laurels for the rest of the tournament. Their sight is set on making it to the quarterfinal – just like in 1997 in Finland.
“The wins create a momentum for us, and the players know that there are new games ahead of us now. It was a great feeling to win, but we’ve left it behind us now. On the game day, there will be new emotions,” Znaroks says.
And if things go well for his team, you can see those emotions on Znaroks’s face right after the game against Switzerland on Thursday. If just for a fleeting moment.