Sweden Looking for Strong Start Versus Latvia in Olympic Opener

Team Sweden’s men’s team kicks off their Olympic run with a test against Latvia. The Latvians are back in the Olympics after missing out in 2018. The two sides did meet in 2014, with Sweden winning 5-3 thanks to multi-point games from Daniel Sedin, Erik Karlsson, Daniel Alfredsson, and Alex Edler. Sweden can not take Lativa lightly as they will come out hungry, looking to claim their fourth-ever Olympic win.

2022 Olympics Beijing 2022 Sweden
2022 Olympics Beijing 2022 Sweden (The Hockey Writers)

Game Time: February 9th, 2022 @ 8:10 PM PST/ February 10th, 2020 @ 12:10 AM EST

3 Keys to Victory for Sweden

Score Early

As mentioned, the Latvian’s missed out on the last Olympics, so they will be energized once the puck drops. Sweden needs to find a way to get on the board early to try and kill any early momentum Latvia may try to build. The Latvians have some talented forwards who can score goals like Rodrigo Abols and Kaspars Daugavins, so getting the first goal early is crucial.

Power Play Needs to Be Powerful

During the 2018 Olympics, Team Sweden struggled on the power play. They finished ninth overall in the tournament scoring two goals on 17 attempts. This game is a great opportunity for Sweden to refine their power play. Special teams are a major part of the game so look for players like Henrik Tömmernes, Mathias Bromé, and Anton Lander to step up on the power play and hopefully start the tournament off successfully.

Related: Sweden’s Captain Anton Lander Expected To Play Major Role at Olympics

Despite Sweden’s offensive weapons, success against Latvia on the power play is not a given. During the 2021 World Champions, Latvia killed off 18 of 19 power plays. They were able to prevent Canada, the US, and Finland from scoring with the extra man. As mentioned, this is a great opportunity for Sweden, but they will need to be sharp if they want to have success on the power play.

Don’t Underestimate Latvia

Despite Sweden being a higher-ranked country, they need to ensure they take Latvia seriously to risk a repeat of what happened at the 2021 World Championship. During the tournament, Sweden lost to Belarus and Denmark, which was a big reason they failed to make the quarterfinals. As mentioned, Latvia does have some offensive ability, so Sweden has to be careful to avoid being upset by a lower seed.

3 Latvians to Watch

Rodrigo Ābols

The former Canucks 2016 seventh-round pick from 2016 is having a career year with Örebro HK of the Swedish Hockey League. Rodrigo Ābols, who was named captain of Örebro HK, has 25 points in 35 games and comes into the tournament scoring two goals and registering two assists in his last two games. He was a major reason behind Latvia’s qualification into the Olympics and will look to make his mark on the World’s biggest stage.

One other part of Ābols game that should be on full display is his strength. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, he can use his size and strength to physically force opponents off the puck and drive the puck the other way. Sweden will need to match his physicality if they want to have a chance at slowing him down and limiting his opportunities throughout the game.

Uvis Balinskis

Uvis Balinskis will be expected to bring some offense from the blueline as the 25-year-old has put up 19 points in 38 games for HC Litvinov of the Czechia league. He has averaged over 20 minutes a game this season and has developed into HC Litvinov’s top defenseman. Based on his strong play this season and age, a good tournament could mean a shot at an NHL contract, so expect a strong tournament out of the Ventspils native. Latvia will play him a ton during this tournament, and he will play a significant role when these two teams meet.

Nikolajs Jelisejevs

Nikolajs Jelisejevs is having a good year in the Kontential Hockey League with Dinamo Riga. He has 20 points, including 13 goals in 29 games this season, and will be expected to produce some offense for Latvia. A player with good speed and a great shot, Sweden needs to be focused when he is on the ice.

Olympic History

  • 2006: Sweden 6 Latvia 1
  • 2014: Sweden 5 Latvia 3

Prediction

Sweden is the better side and should prevail versus the Latvians. They have a deeper squad, better goaltending, and stronger offensive talent. As long as Sweden plays their game and does not let off the breaks at any point during the game, they should start the tournament with a win.


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