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Latvia's Biggest Hockey Rivalry

PRAGUE – Usually beating Canada would be the highlight of World Championship for a county like Latvia.

Not necessarily so, says goalie Arturs Irbe.

Canada falls a distant second to Russia.

Latvia is the next country on Canada’s radar screen in its defence of the world title won last year in Helsinki. They play on Friday when the competition resumes with the qualifying round. Canada is 3-0-1 against Latvia, including two wins and a tie at the world championship.

Irbe was in goal when Latvia beat Russia in Russia in at the 2000 tournament. It marked the first time Latvia beat Russia and the triumph just happen to coincide with Latvia’s independence day.

Latvia became a separate country in 1991 following the collapse of the Communist Soviet Union, a country Irbe called the “evil empire.”

“It was good for soul, including myself and I do not think I have really cried in my whole career by winning games or winning tournaments but that was the one game I cried and I am not in any way ashamed of it,” Irbe said on the eve of the Latvia-Canada game.

“That was the proudest moment being a Latvian as far as I can remember in my whole life. It (beating Canada) would be big but you can’t compare those two teams. It (beating Russia) is more sticking it to the oppressors and we have been oppressed for so long.”

“It (resentment towards Russia) is in our hearts and bodies and our soul and it does not have to be taught. It is just thereand when you play them you want to beat them and you know what it means for the coach, for the relatives and for the ones that havesuffered during the Gulag (prisons) and all the oppressed years.”

If Latvia was to prevail, Irbe would be the main reason why. He’s capable of stealing a game.

As far as Canada is concerned, they can’t worry about Irbe.
“We have to find a way to get through the neutral zone (with speed). The teams over here like to clog it up,” said Coach Mike Babcock. “We’ll have a real chance to be successful if we do that.”


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