Gudlevskis Returns to Syracuse With Renewed Focus

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Even after one of the biggest performances of his young career, Kristers Gudlevskis tempered any excitement with perspective.

The Syracuse Crunch goalie made 55 saves, as Latvia nearly stunned Canada in the quarterfinals of the winter Olympics in Sochi late last month. The Herculean effort earned Gudlevskis praise worldwide.

But in his first practice back with the Crunch Tuesday, Gudlevskis was back to focusing on the task at hand.

"It was only one game," Gudlevskis said. "So I need to show everybody I'm really consistent every game all season long. I think only then I'm going to prove myself."

Earlier in the Olympics, Gudlevskis made 25 saves in a 5-3 loss to Sweden. Looking to bounce back, the 21-year-old was excited at the thought of facing Canada.

Gudlevskis allowed the first goal of the game to Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp midway through the first period, but Lauris Darzins tied the game for Latvia a little more than two minutes later. Gudlevskis made one save after another to keep the score knotted at 1-1 until Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber scored the eventual game-winner on the power play with less than seven minutes remaining.

During and after the game, many in the hockey world searched feverishly to find more information about Gudlevskis.

"I was kind of surprised that everybody was so excited about the game," Gudlevskis said. "Because we still lose the game."

With the Olympics over, Gudlevskis returned to the Tampa Bay Lightning and backed up for a couple contests before being reassigned to Syracuse. He didn't get to see any ice time in a game, which would have made him the first player to play in the ECHL, the American Hockey League, the National Hockey League and Olympics in the same season.

His time in Sochi still served as a confidence-builder.

"I think he can stand a little taller and know that he can compete at that level," said Crunch coach Rob Zettler. "He's shown he can."

Although his performance at the Olympics opened many eyes, Gudlevskis knows he needs more seasoning before making the jump to the NHL. In 22 games with Syracuse, the 6-3 netminder has gone 11-8-2 with a .900 save percentage and 2.69 goals against average.

"I don't think I've played enough games yet to be ready for (the) NHL," Gudlevskis said. "Of course I want to play there. Of course I think I can play there. But still I need to prove myself."

It's been an eventful year for Gudlevskis, whether it was playing in the three top leagues in North America or the Olympics. But Zettler knows the goalie is on the right track.

"It's been quite a ride for him," Zettler said. "Hopefully … he continues to keep the same work ethic as he has all year, because that's what has taken him to these levels."