Newcomer Rubins making his mark
by Andrew Podnieks|12 MAY 2018
Kristians Rubins skates with the puck during his first IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship with the Latvian men's national team.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
He may be only 20 years old, but Latvia’s Kristians Rubins won’t sneak up on anybody. At 6’4” (1.94m) and 212 pounds (96 kg), he is a big boy. Rubins is one of several recent graduates of Latvia’s emerging junior program. He played at the U18 in 2015 and the U20 two years later, and now in Herning he is playing his first senior tournament.
It feels awesome, especially since there are a lot of Latvian fans here.
Kristians Rubins
Latvian defenceman
“But hockey at the pro level is way faster, and even more on the bigger ice. I’ve played these kinds of games before at the junior level, so my first games haven’t really caused me any problems,” Rubins said about his debut event.
Rubins has just finished his second season with the Medicine Hat Tigers in Manitoba. He sees playing in the WHL as an opportunity on many fronts, starting with the obvious: “I wanted to move to Canada because it’s my dream to play in the NHL and be close to it,” he said candidly.
But that dream started years before. When he was 16, he moved to Sweden to play in the junior program in Vasteras, and he moved quickly up the ranks to play for the senior team in the Elitserien. From there he was scouted and drafted into the CHL in Canada, and he didn’t hesitate to make the jump.
Being named to the Latvian team this year is a huge confidence boost for Rubins, not just because of the level of play but because he was chosen by Latvia’s coach, Bob Hartley. Hartley coached in the NHL for 14 years and is in his second year with the Latvian national program.
“He’s an awesome coach,” Rubins enthused, “and he speaks English, which is also good for me. I’m honoured to be playing for him. He coached in the NHL, so it’s an unbelievable experience honestly. I’m just living the dream right now.”
Of course, big defencemen often take a little longer to develop, so Rubins knows he’s not going to be named to the all-star team right away or get 30 minutes of ice time a game.
“I have to be ready for everything,” he continued. “One game I can play eight minutes and the next game 20 minutes, so I have to step up and be sharp whenever I get the chance.”
So far Latvia has had a solid tournament, currently sitting in fourth place in Group B, which would qualify the team for the playoffs. Rubins has one assist to his credit, that on a Gints Meija goal in a 5-0 win over Korea (which also proved to be the game winner).
He’s also averaging 12:49 of playing time per game, which he has to be pleased with, and he is a +2 on the team, very impressive given that the team’s goals differential is to the negative (11-13).
There is still plenty of hockey to be played in Denmark, and Rubins probably has a ways to go before he’ll get into his first NHL game, but he is on the right track, and that dream is on the way to being reality.