Latvia’s Silovs makes Vancouver debut
by Lucas Aykroyd|17 FEB 2023
After appearing in four games at the 2022 IIHF World Championship, Latvia's Arturs Silovs suited up for the Vancouver Canucks for the first time on 16 February 2023.
photo: Andre Ringuette / IIHF
It wasn’t exactly the way Arturs Silovs would have scripted it. But the 21-year-old Latvian goalie made a little history when he got his first NHL start for the Vancouver Canucks in a 6-4 home loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday night.

Vancouver becomes the only NHL club ever to use three Latvian goalies. The previous two were Arturs Irbe (1997-98) and Peter Skudra (2001-03). In all-time NHL games, the legendary Irbe (568) and Skudra (146) rank first and second respectively among goalies from their small Baltic nation.

Of course, a pro hockey player’s focus is invariably on the here and now. Asked afterwards what it meant to him to become Latvia’s sixth all-time NHL goalie, Silovs chuckled: “It doesn’t really mean anything to me now. It’s only the beginning. So that’s just a taste of experience.”
Making 21 saves at Rogers Arena against a powerful Rangers squad that ranks sixth overall in the NHL standings was nice. But the former HS Riga netminder – Vancouver’s sixth-round pick in 2019 (156th overall) – still wound up with a 5.11 GAA and 81.5 save percentage. Artemi Panarin cued New York to its sixth straight win with two goals and an assist.

That said, Silovs didn’t look intimidated despite duelling a far more famous fellow #31 in another Russian superstar, Igor Shesterkin. He came in with a respectable 2.46 GAA and 90.6 GAA with the Abbotsford Canucks, for whom he’s racked up a 21-9-4 record as an AHL rookie.

“You don’t want to throw [Silovs] to the wolves,” said Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet, who has struggled to implement a more defensive system since taking over from Bruce Boudreau 25 days ago. “But I think he battled and our team battled. We have a guy here that’s battling. We have another guy that’s a Vezina Trophy winner [in Shesterkin].”

“It’s different skills, different speed,” Silovs said. “It was fun to play, and I’m getting that experience. So that’s good for me.”

His appearance at the arena that hosted the 2010 Olympic gold medal hockey games was a surprise. He likely wouldn’t have gotten his chance if Canucks starter Thatcher Demko hadn’t been limited to 15 games this year due to injury and backups Spencer Martin and Colin Dellia hadn’t floundered. But this 193-cm, 98-kg prospect is no stranger to filling in for elite talent versus world-class competition.

Silovs made his IIHF World Championship debut last year in Tampere, Finland. First, he shut the door after replacing Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins, who had allowed five first-period goals on 17 shots, in a 5-1 loss to Czechia.
He then won a 4-3 shootout versus Austria, took over from Merzlikins again in a 4-3 comeback victory over Great Britain, and shone with 34 saves in a 1-0 loss to Sweden to end the group stage.

To record a 1.22 GAA and 95.2 save percentage at Nokia Arena was something special for the kid whose only previous top-division IIHF outing was at the 2019 U18 Worlds (3.38 GAA, 91.8 save percentage).

Reflecting back on Latvia’s 10th-place finish in Tampere, Silovs said: “It was much closer to the NHL level. It was good for me, good for my experience, getting games like that. I’ve also been getting more confident in the American Hockey League. So I think that’s a big plus for me.”

Silovs can cherish some little milestones. He got his rookie lap in before debuting against the Rangers, and his family in Latvia got up early to watch him in NHL action.
From Thursday’s game, he’ll also remember his first NHL save at 1:41 of the first period, squeezing the puck under his right arm after Filip Chytil tested him from the left side. Mika Zibanejad then scored five-hole at 5:51 to make it 1-0 after opening Silovs up, and that first goal against is something to learn from.

“In this league, you’ve got to be really patient, because those guys can do a lot of stuff and score a lot of creative goals,” Silov said.

Silovs celebrates his 22nd birthday on 22 March. He’d be even more excited to celebrate his first NHL win. For now, it’s about the small victories. For example, with four minutes left in the second period, he foiled Panarin’s backhand attempt on a break with a lunging right pad save.

“It always feels good to shut down the top guys,” Silovs said.

The 2023 IIHF World Championship is slated for Tampere and Riga (12 to 28 May). Will the famously boisterous Latvian fans get to cheer for Silovs after being largely excluded from Arena Riga during the 2021 “bubble Worlds”? The Canucks are unlikely to make the playoffs, but Silovs’ whereabouts may depend on how Abbotsford fares in the AHL post-season.

Regardless of what happens next, Silovs has already made himself the second-most famous Latvian NHL goalie named Arturs. And he’s young enough that there’s plenty of time left to script some happy Hollywood-style endings.