Latvia keeps its word

Team host of maroon-white team comes from Nova Scotia

29.01.2010
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After the 2008 World Championship in Halifax, Ken McCormick will also be one of Latvia’s team hosts in the Vancouver Olympics. Photo: Canwest News Service

HALIFAX, Canada – Ken McCormick's ticket to the Vancouver Olympics is a simple promise, scrawled on a cocktail napkin two years ago by the general manager of the Latvia men's national hockey team.

It says if the Latvians qualified for the 2010 Olympics, they would bring McCormick, 39 from Nova Scotia, along with them.

The deal was struck inside a Halifax hotel during the 2008 IIHF World Championship, where McCormick, a high school hockey coach, was volunteering as the local "host" of the Latvian team.

For two weeks he lived with the Latvians in their hotel and was kept busy night and day organizing transportation, finding custom-made hockey gear, booking sightseeing tours for players' families, and escorting team managers and staff to local restaurants and watering holes.

So impressed were the Latvians with McCormick's efforts – they told him he was the best team host they'd ever had – and such good friends did they become, that general manager Maris Baldonieks promised to bring McCormick to Vancouver if the team made the Olympics.

Last February, after finally qualifying for an Olympic berth, Baldonieks sent a letter to Vancouver organizers requesting McCormick be named one of the two hosts each hockey team will have at its disposal during the games.

McCormick also applied through proper channels to volunteer at the Games. But unlike the thousands of Canadians who filled out application forms, he made it clear there was only one volunteer job he was seeking.

Late last year, organizers told him he'd be working as a Team Latvia host, alongside fellow volunteer John Winter, president of the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce.

"I couldn't be more excited to go to the best hockey tournament in the world, and be able to play a small part in it," says McCormick, who arrives in Vancouver on Feb. 10.

Unlike at the World Championship, where McCormick lived 24/7 with the team, in Vancouver the Latvians will stay in the athletes village and McCormick, like all out-of-town volunteers, will be billeted with a local family. But he expects to be just as busy as he was in Halifax, and won't likely have a moment to watch any events outside the hockey tournament – which is fine with him.

"I'm going 100 per cent for the hockey," he says. "Certainly I'd like to see some other events, but I won't have the time, and that's not what I'm there for.

"My first role will be to walk the team through to get their credentials when they arrive in Vancouver."

Latvia isn't a hockey powerhouse and McCormick knows they aren't expected to make the medal round, but that doesn't mean Team Latvia, and its legions of noisy, diehard fans, won't make an impact in Vancouver.

More than 1,000 Latvians, and Latvian-Canadian immigrants, travelled to Halifax in 2008 to cheer their team at the World Championship. They filled the stadium with a sea of Latvia-purple during every game the team played, and afterwards kept the city's bars open late into the night.

"The Latvian hockey fans are amazing," says McCormick. "In Vancouver Team Canada will be the most popular team by far, but Latvia will be a close second. The Latvians have a fun culture, they're passionate about hockey, and they love to take it all in."

RICHARD FOOT

This story is published with the kind permission by Canwest News Service

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