Five Latvians Walk Into an Arena…

In a sparsely populated Rogers Place, the visitors might have lost on the scoreboard, but they still stole the show
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Canada and Latvia about to face off

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Canada kicked off group stage play Wednesday at the World Junior Hockey Championships, and the lower bowl at Rogers Place wasn’t half full.

Canada beat Latvia 5-2, but the action on the ice was secondary. In an arena where the Canadian fans who bothered to show up made very little noise, five Latvian fans put on a show. From the press area, we heard the constant strains of “Lat-veeee-ahhhh, Lat-veeee-ahhhh, Lat-veeee-ahhhh!” They waved flags and scarves.

They were awesome. Really, the highlight of the day.

There has been a lot of talk about the poor ticket sales, Hockey Canada scandals and the (lack of) wisdom about rescheduling a tournament for the summer a time when Edmontonians make sure not one day that could be spent outdoors is wasted. But Latvian goalie Patriks Berzins, offered some perspective. He would have been his team’s star of the game if not for the five fans who outscreamed and outhowled a few thousand Canadian fans.

“Yeah, I did (hear them) actually, in the third period,” said Berzins. “When we were on our bench and they were on the opposite side of the arena, I heard them. I saw them in the first period as well. They made some noise.”

And then some perspective. The headlines in Canada are all about how this tournament is going to be an absolute failure. After all, a World Junior Tournament that’s held during the Christmas season dominates not only sports conversation, but really takes over the mainstream media as a whole. When it’s held in Canada, games sell out, in fact, lotteries are needed to sort out who gets the tickets. Now, with the upper bowl curtained off, and the lower bowl maybe one third full, it’s easy to pile on.

But, to our guests, this is still a big deal. An awfully big deal. Playing a game in Canada is like being asked to play a soccer game in Brazil, or a baseball game at Yankee Stadium.

“I’ve been waiting to play against Canada, because of the whole team,” said Berzins. “When I saw the first games, and there were no fans (for the opening games Tuesday, in which Canada did not feature), I wanted the arena to be packed against Canada and I could show my best game.”

But the arena wasn’t packed, right? To Berzins, who is used to being anonymous, this was his take.

“For me, it was still many fans, actually.”

Especially those five Latvian flag-wavers.