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March 18, 2016

Wednesday, January 9, 2002

Vasiljevs gets Oly OK from Canucks

By PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

 How's this for a switch: there's one member of the Manitoba Moose whose worst fear is being called up to the NHL.

 Well, maybe that's overstating it a little.

 It's not that Herbert Vasiljevs hates the thought of playing in the best league in the world. And he certainly doesn't hate the idea of multiplying his salary several times over.

 No, Vasiljevs doesn't hate any of those things. But he loves his country.

 And that's why he might be tempted to ignore a call from the Vancouver Canucks later this month, or early in February.

 You see, Vasiljevs has designs on playing for his native Latvia at the Winter Olympics.

 Latvia has three crucial games in the preliminary round, Feb. 9-13, before the NHL begins its Olympic break. It probably has to win two of them in order to advance to the final round. Slovakia, Austria and Germany are in the same pool.

 Vancouver GM Brian Burke, though, has made it clear he won't allow Vasiljevs to miss NHL games.

 Yesterday, the Canucks clarified their position, and Vasiljevs received the call he'd been waiting for: if he's still with the Moose, he'll be off to Salt Lake City.


 "That's great news," the 25-year-old said from his Winnipeg home. "It's going to be a great opportunity for me. It's just amazing to go to the Olympics. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

 The decision comes as Latvian officials descend on North America in an attempt to convince NHL teams to release players for preliminary Olympic competition.

 A contingent including the president of the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation plan to meet with NHL GMs in Nashville, Minnesota and Carolina to demonstrate how important the Games are to their country.

 You don't have to tell Vasiljevs.

 Latvia last played hockey at the Olympics in 1936. Five years later, the Soviet Union invaded the country, and Latvians played under the Soviet flag until regaining their independence in 1991.

 "It's the greatest moment of their lives," Vasiljevs said. "They are such great hockey fans. They've been waiting for this moment since they've been a free country. It's just amazing. Everyone's so happy, I can't tell you."

 Earlier this week, the Carolina Hurricanes said they'd allow goalie Arturs Irbe and defenceman Sandis Ozolinsh to play for Latvia in the preliminary round, but just for the one game that doesn't conflict with their NHL schedule.

 The Latvian delegation will, no doubt, try to have that extended to two or three games.

 Vasiljevs, who keeps in touch with his countrymen, says Irbe, particularly, wants to play at the Games.

 The other Latvians in the NHL are forward Sergei Zholtok of Minnesota, Nashville defenceman Karlis Skrastins, and Vancouver goalie Peter Skudra.

 Vasiljevs says Skudra, unfortunately, isn't interested in going to Salt Lake City to be the backup to Irbe.

 "I think it's a great opportunity to show what kind of world class goalie he is," Vasiljevs said, clearly perplexed by Skudra's decision.

 An unabashed patriot, Vasiljevs also played for Latvia in the 2000 world championship.

 "I love to play for the national team," he said. "That's why I go back to play for the world championship. But this is different."

 Of course, should the Canucks call him up at the wrong time, he wouldn't have any choice but to give up his Olympic dream.

 When you think about it, that makes him a winner either way.

2002 Games Men's Hockey Coverage

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