Dans Locmelis one of a kind
by Andrew Podnieks|03 JAN 2024
photo: Matt Zambonin/IIHF
The Latvian junior program has undergone a renaissance and has built some terrific momentum in the last few years. At the U18 level, they have played in the top level the last five years (including the upcoming tournament in April) and all but two years since 2012. 

At the World Junior level, results have been a bit slower to come by, but this year is their third in a row at the top. In 2022, they had to play a best-of-three relegation series with Austria, and they swept the first two to stay up. This year, they made it to the playoffs thanks to a big win over Germany and a bit of luck with other results, and although their dream ended with a loss to the United States, they will be playing in Ottawa in a year's time.

For captain Dans Locmelis, the challenge to stay up and been huge, but despite being only 19, this is already his sixth IIHF tournament. He played at the U18 in 2021 and 2022, and played at the World Juniors in 2022 and last year, when he had a goal in the first game against Austria, a 5-2 win, and scored the game-winning goal in the second game, a 4-2 win.

This year, he is wearing the “C” for the first time in his national-team career and is tied for the team scoring lead with three points as Latvia was preparing to face the Americans.

“I knew pretty early during our camp that I was named captain,” he recounted, “and it’s an honour to be Latvian captain.”

Of the 250 or so players from ten nations in Gothenburg, he is the only one who has won a medal at the IIHF Men’s World Championship, an historic bronze from last year’s event in Tampere. 

“It’s special, but nobody cares here,” he said, downplaying his remarkable achievement. “This is a new tournament, so we wanted to try to get another medal. But, of course, the bronze is special for me.”

The first-ever bronze for Latvia will forever hold a special place in Locmelis's heart, as was the welcome when the team returned home. “The homecoming was incredible when we arrived in Riga,” he recalled. “There were more than 50,000 people I think waiting for us, so that’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Locmelis was drafted 119th overall by Boston in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, and he is currently playing for the University of Massachusetts in the NCAA. One of the tricky parts about returning to junior-age hockey after playing at the senior level is to adjust to slower play. It might sound easy, but it isn’t. “Everything is slower, yes, but our team here is not as good as the men’s team that won the bronze, so it’s another adjustment for me and something I need to work on,” he explained.

As for his duties as captain, he takes them seriously and knows from experience how important they are. “I try to lead by example, on the ice and off the ice, try to get the young guys going on the team and push everyone forward,” he explained.

Earlier in the tournament, Locmelis was optimistic about his team’s chances, saying, “Our first goal here is the quarter-finals. After that, it’s just one game and anything can happen, as we saw in the World Championship.”

That one game turned out to be a loss to a very strong U.S. team, but under Locmelis's leadership the team accomplished its first two goals--stay up, and make the playoffs. And with that final game, his junior career is over and he sets his sights on success in the NCAA, hoping it will lead to the NHL.