One of the unexpected storylines for Olympic hockey during the recent Sochi Games was the surprising emergence of Latvian goalie Kristers Gudlevskis, who stood between the pipes not long ago for the Florida Everblades.
According to many followers, Gudlevskis posted one of the top single performances by a goalie in Olympic history. Facing the eventual gold medal winning Canadians in a quarterfinal match-up on February 19, the 21-year-old stopped an incredible 55 of 57 shots.
After nearly 60-minutes of acrobatic saves, Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators landed the game-winner in the tense final moments and Latvia fell 2-1. However, the largely-unknown Gudlevskis nearly helped his country pull-off what would have been one of Olympics' biggest upsets.
The performance surely pleased Everblades' fans, who watched Gudlevskis thrive at Germain Arena only months ago. The goalie was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the fifth-round of the 2013 NHL Draft and assigned to the Blades by the team's nearby affiliate to begin the 2013-14 season.
The goalie even started in net for a pair of opening weekend victories by Florida over the Orlando Solar Bears in October. Quickly summoned to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL, Gudlevskis returned to the Blades in November, and eventually accrued a 7-4 record, including an impressive 1.83 GAA and .925 save percentage, with the Blades.
The Lightning noticed these minuscule numbers, as Gudlevskis was promoted back to Syracuse in December, and remains assigned to the AHL franchise.
The goalie's performance was all-the-more surprising since it was just his second start of the tournament. Looking more ordinary, Gudlevskis had surrendered five goals to Sweden during his Sochi debut in a game on February 15.
Lacking the superstars that characterized the rosters of the tournament's top teams, Latvia dropped four of five games. But by making a hockey-crazed Canada very nervous for 60 minutes, Gudlevskis single-handedly kept an over-matched club in the quarterfinal contest.
The accomplishment is even more impressive when realizing the Canadians soon rolled over Sweden -- and elite goalie Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers -- 3-0 in taking gold at the championship game.
Gudlevskis actually served as his country's second-string net-minder behind Edgars Masalskis. This was the fourth Olympics for the 33-year-old veteran and Gudlevskis likely will assume the starting mantle for Latvia in the future.
Only the second Latvian goalie drafted into the NHL, keep an eye on this 6'4" backstop, as he looks to match the track-record of countryman Arturs Irbe, who competed for four teams during a 13-year career from 1991 to 2003.
Jeffrey Briscoe is a hockey fan and the Florida Everblades Examiner. For a closer look at the Kristers Gudlevskis and the Florida Everblades, be sure to check out the "Photo Gallery" above.