We're only a week in to the AHL season, but the original Syracuse Crunch roster that hit the ice for the opener in Rochester has already undergone a few alterations courtesy of the parent organization, the Columbus Blue Jackets. However, one element remains constant; Latvia is still represented on the 24-man roster in the form of defenseman Jekabs Redlihs.
But it's not always that easy. If only one out of every 24 players in the American Hockey League or National Hockey League actually were from Latvia. As a matter of fact, only 26 Latvians have ever been selected in the NHL entry draft. Out of those, only 11 have played in "the show."
A brief history lesson: the first Latvian drafted by an NHL team was Viktors Hatulevs, back in 1975. The first Latvian to play in the National Hockey League was Helmut Balderis with the Minnesota North Stars in 1989. Perhaps the most decorated Latvian stars to take their games to North America are defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh and goalie Arturs Irbe.
Zoom ahead to today. Redlihs is trying to become the first of the 12 Latvians drafted to the NHL in the current decade to actually play in the NHL. Since being drafted by Columbus in the fourth round in 2002, Redlihs has played four years at Boston University and parts of three seasons with the Crunch, plus a short stint with the Dayton Bombers last season.
Redlihs dressed for one of the Crunch's two games to date after playing in 46 games with the club last season. Redlihs and the rest of the Crunch will play the Hartford Wolfpack in the home opener tomorrow night.