Gudlevskis Puts Olympic Excitement on Hold

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Despite receiving word that he was selected to represent his country at the Olympics, Kristers Gudlevskis is focusing on the task at hand.

The netminder was included on the Latvia men's national hockey team's preliminary roster for the games in Sochi next month, but after finishing practice with the Syracuse Crunch Tuesday, Gudlevskis reiterated what's important to him now.

"I don't concentrate on (the) tournament yet," the 21-year-old said. "I concentrate on the Crunch and do everything possible to win some games, get some points. When I need to go to the Olympics, then I start concentrating on the Olympics."

But when the time comes next month, Gudlevskis will be more than happy to slip on the Latvian sweater.

"I'm extremely happy, it's a big responsibility and an honor to represent my country," Gudlevskis said.

Syracuse coach Rob Zettler is happy for his goaltender.

"He's worked hard and he deserves it," he said.

In 13 games with Syracuse, Gudlevskis has gone 7-5 with a pair of shutouts, including one in his American Hockey League debut. The 6-3 goalie has played more than 700 minutes, and has a 2.82 goals against average and a .902 save percentage.

Zettler sees the Olympics as a way for Gudlevskis to further improve his game.

"He's basically playing against NHL players, and collectively, the best NHL players," Zettler said. "He will probably see a lot of shots, a lot of rubber, but at the end of the day, it's a good thing for him."

Although he has represented Latvia in international competition before, this will be Gudlevskis' first time at the Olympic games.

At the 2013 International Ice Hockey Federation Championship tournament, Gudlevskis posted a .925 save percentage and a 2.22 goals against average. His play caught the attention of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who drafted him in the fifth round last year, the highest-ranked Latvian goaltender to be drafted into the National Hockey League.

"I just want to go there and get the experience being on in (the) Olympic games," Gudlevskis said. "I think it's incredible. It should be fun."

Over the past two decades, only two other active Crunch players were chosen to represent their countries in the Olympics. Ukraine's Andrei Sryubko participated in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, while Tuomas Gronman won a bronze medal with Finland in Nagano in 1998.

Eight former Crunch players, including three who won the Eastern Conference Championship with Syracuse last year, were chosen to represent their countries in Sochi. Radko Gudas and Ondrej Palat will play for the Czech Republic, while Richard Panik will suit up for Slovakia.

They join Austia's Matthias Trattnig, Andre Lakos and Brian Lebler, as well as Norway's Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and the Czech Republic's Michal Rozsival.

Overall, Gudlevskis is one of seven members of the Lightning organization chosen to play for their countries in Sochi, and the only one in the minor leagues. Besides Palat, Gudas and Panik, Valtteri Filppula and Sami Salo were chosen to represent Finland, and Canada included Steven Stamkos on its preliminary roster.

For Gudlevskis, playing in the Olympics will provide a chance to compare his game side-by-side with the best players in the world.

"I always want to play against them, they are the best players in the world," Gudlevskis said. "I have a great opportunity to be there and play against them."

"You can (see) that and know how much you need to work to be at that level," he added.