STOCKHOLM – Taking centre stage for Latvian national team here in Stockholm are Janis Sprukts and Miks Indrasis who represent the national team's present and future.
Latvia has gotten off to a good start at these IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. After dropping its opening game, the Latvians have won two straight and working towards a spot in the quarter-finals.
At the 2000 IIHF World Championship, Sprukts made his debut as an 18-year-old. Since then Sprukts has been a member of nine national teams and is the captain on this one.
“It’s gone by so fast that I can’t believe it sometimes,” said Sprukts. “It’s enjoyable but the past twelve years have gone by so fast, with so many memories and games played.”
After being drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 8th round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Sprukts played junior hockey in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League where he scored 14 playoff goals in the 2000-01 playoffs.
Sprukts eventually advanced to minor pro hockey with the Rochester Americans and then got a brief cup of coffee with the Florida Panthers, but that did not last long. By 2009 Sprukts left North America and returned to Latvia where he’s been a member of Dinamo Riga.
Even now after 50 games of World Championship experience, Sprukts can remember what it was like in his first-ever game in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“Like other players, I’m sure, the first game I played I was a little nervous,” he said. “But otherwise I think as you keep playing you get over that quickly and try to adjust to the speed of the game and then build momentum.”
This is good advice that Sprukts has no doubt passed on to Indrasis.
Indrasis is making his national team debut and it’s been quite a successful first experience. In three games he has scored three goals and five points.
Yesterday afternoon, Indrasis was seemingly everywhere and had a definite nose for the net. He leads the team in shots, averaging four per game.
“He has good hands and lately plays good defence too,” said Sprukts, who is second on the team behind Indrasis in scoring. “He has to keep the focus and keep going.”
The 21-year-old Indrasis was a prolific scorer for the HK Riga team in the MHL, the KHL equivalent of junior hockey. He also played for the country's second-strongest men's team, Liepajas Metalurgs in the Belarusian Extraliga.
Next season he will make the big leap to Dinamo Riga where the veteran Sprukts will be there once again to offer guidance.
His strong start at the World Championship will provide a big boost as well.
“It’s a very good start for me. I did not expect to start this way but feel good that I can score and help my team in this and other ways.”
Even as this has been an amazing experience for the young man he knows that should Latvia qualify for the playoffs here, the hockey will get faster and require greater commitment from everyone. Indrasis admits that his skating needs improvement.
“I need a quicker first stride when I skate,” he said with a laugh when asked about this skating stride. “It is something that I am working on, for sure.”
No better way to improve it than skating against the best in the world.