After the 20th Winter Olympiad in Torino, Italy in 2006, defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh walked away from the Latvian Olympic team for reasons he declined to elaborate on.
"I was done with the national team," said Ozolinsh on Saturday. "It was my personal decision about what was happening at the time. It was the right decision. I do not regret it."
Well…it wasn’t because of his play. He had four points in five games in Torino, a tournament that marked his second Olympics and sixth appearance for Latvia. He continued to play in the NHL as well for another two seasons.
“Psychologically I could not play any more," he said.
Ozolinsh retired from the NHL after the 2007-2008 season. He left the game with one Stanley Cup ring and seven all-star appearances. Once an elite offensive defenseman; Ozolinsh hung up his skates after a 15-year NHL career that included stops with the Colorado Avalanche, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Anaheim Ducks and New York Rangers sandwiched in between two stints with the San Jose Sharks.
After a year off, a reinvigorated Ozolinsh returned to the game with his hometown team, Dinamo Riga of the KHL. All he did there was make four all-star teams in the past five years.
Now a 41-year-old grizzled veteran; Ozolinsh was welcomed back to the Latvian National team with open arms and will represent them at the 22nd Winter Olympiad. The Riga native was even selected to carry the flag for Latvia during the opening ceremony on Friday.
Still described as a “game changer” by Latvian coach Ted Nolan (also of the Buffalo Sabres); Ozolinsh also serves as a de facto translator for the Canadian-born coach. For his part, the defenseman is enjoying things thus far this go-round.
“I am enjoying it because I’ve got a different perspective, different attitude and approach to these Games," said Ozolinsh. "I am really trying to take everything that I can from this event and really enjoy it."
His lengthy hiatus now over, Ozolinsh (the most decorated player in Latvian history) will return to the ice for Latvia on Wednesday, looking to shake off his rust in international competition when the team opens their preliminary round play against Switzerland.
"I don't have much recent experience with the national team," he said. "Only three games in the last eight years."