A win over Australia on Saturday would have put the Latvians in a great position to play for the bronze medal on Tuesday, and they got an early goal from captain Linda Rulle. However, the Australians answered quickly and then got another goal late in the third period to win 2-1.
“It hurts so bad because it’s our first time at the World Championship, and we wanted to make it further, but what happened happened,” Rulle said moments after her team’s medal hopes had ended. “The start was really good. We scored first but the goals they scored were just lucky. Luck wasn’t on our side but I’m proud of my girls. They played really well.”
Latvia stands out somewhat among the field of nine teams at the Division II tournament in Istanbul, in that it’s generally thought of as a traditional hockey nation. The team is an annual competitor at the men’s World Championship and Latvian fans are renowned for their passion in the sport. That’s something Rulle is well aware of.
“All my family likes hockey, so hockey’s been a part of me since I was born,” said Rulle. She went on to say that her favourite player is Pittsburgh Penguins centre Teodors Blugers and she once played in a 3-on-3 tournament against Rodzers Bukarts of Latvia’s famous Bukarts family.
But while Latvia’s men’s team is ranked 11th in the IIHF World Ranking, the women are ranked 29th following a second-place finish at the Women’s World Championship Division II Group A in Jaca, Spain in April.
“In Latvia, the boys’ national teams are so good and women’s hockey isn’t so good yet, but it’s progressing,” Rulle explained. “Each year it’s getting better and I hope it keeps going up in future years.”
Rulle, who was born in 2005 and still has another year of U18 eligibility, was one of two players on the current Latvian U18 women’s team to play in that tournament in Spain – the other being defender Ksenija Kezika. Rulle had a goal and two assists in four games and was tied for third in team scoring on the senior women’s team with three points.
“It was my first World Championship with the women’s national team and I was really nervous, but I think I played pretty good and we did well as a team,” said Rulle. “We could have got first place but we lost to Great Britain.”
“I wanted to play at a better level and the only option for that was going to another country, and our assistant coach Laila Dekmeijere got me into Germany,” said Rulle.
Dekmeijre, a long-time member of the Latvian women’s national team who served as team captain for a while, played for several years in Germany and has connections there.
“The president of EC Bergkamen, which was the last club I played for, was asking me about players who might have an interest to play in their highest league,” said Dekmeijere. “So, asked Linda. She’s an outstanding athlete with a very high work ethic. She is working very hard to achieve her goals.”
“It was really scary because they didn’t know a lot of English, so it was hard to communicate with them,” Rulle said about her German teammates, explaining that she could understand a few words of German but she studied online at a Latvian school.
With their medal hopes now over, the Latvians beat the host Turkish team 5-1 on Sunday to finish second in Group E. With three goals and an assist in the game, Rulle now leads the tournament with eight goals and 10 points heading into the final day. Latvia will face the tournament host again on Tuesday in the game to determine fifth and sixth places.
“I hope we can play our best, score some goals and win those games because that will mean a lot for women’s hockey in our country and to me as a captain.”