HALIFAX Ė Jekabs Redlihs may be new to the Latvian national team but heís no stranger to international competition. Redlihs twice represented Latvian junior teams but this is his first chance on the senior menís team.
Heís one of six players on the team 25 and under, meaning that Latvian is now infusing young talent into the lineup. This is a welcome development since the success of any national team comes with change.
Redlihs joins his brothers Krisjanis and Mikelis in this emerging youth movement. Both have represented Latvian in recent World Championships, which helps Jekabs transition in joining the lineup.
"They have helped not so much from a hockey standpoint but in making me feel welcome,Ē he said of his siblings. "With the team they have made me feel like one of the guys so it has been great."
In 2001, Redlihs took an important step in his own development as a player. He left Latvia, traveling to North America and landing in New York. He joined Apple Core, one of the top American junior hockey developmental programs.
"I was told about it by a family advisor who recommended the team because it was a good opportunity to play hockey and improve while thinking about what colleges that I might attend."
His parents purchased a two-way ticket to New York for their son to try out for the team. The Long Island based team liked what they saw from his performance. At Apple Core Redlihs was able to focus on improving his game, his English, and education. At these programs junior players work towards improving to the point where they can get a solid education at a top university and play Division I hockey.
Redlihs earned a scholarship to Boston University where he played all four years.
"I had four options of schools to attend but I chose BU because it of its great hockey program and its academic programs," he said. "College was great and you graduate from there with a really solid education."
Boston University plays in the Hockey East conference where other elite schools like Boston College, the University of Maine, Providence College, and the University of New Hampshire compete.
New England hockey culture rivals those of other hockey-loving areas found throughout the world. Each year the Beanpot tournament brings together schools located in Boston, Massachusetts for a sort of local championship. For Redlihs winning the tournament was a moment he will always remember as Boston University won the tournament title in February 2006.
"My last Beanpot was amazing. Being a senior and winning like we did was a moment I will remember for the rest of my life."
Drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Redlihs played several seasons for the Syracuse Crunch before joining HC Plzen in the Czech Extraleague where he plays nowadays.
This tournament for Redlihs is an opportunity to improve his game.
"I want to prove to myself that I can compete on this level,Ē he said. "It is not every day you get to match up against so many top hockey players at this level. And most of all have fun and enjoy the experience while learning because thatís what itís all about."
It sounds as though Redlihs grasps the key to his development will be here in Canada and whether or not his future is with the Latvian national team.