Superstitious Gudlevskis Making Most of Opportunities
A few days after registering a shutout in his American Hockey League debut, Kristers Gudlevskis returned to the ice with a different look.
The mask emblazoned with blue stripes and the outline of a lightning bolt that he wore in his first three wins of the season was nowhere in sight as Gudlevskis dawned a more comfortable plain white helmet for Syracuse Crunch practice Tuesday.
Like his mask, Gudlevskis is back to a blank slate. His 22-save shutout over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers is history, and it's time to move forward.
"It was only one game; you need to prove yourself every game," the 21-year-old said. "You need to be consistent."
It may have been only one game, but Syracuse coach Rob Zettler liked what he saw. Gudlevskis' quick legs and willingness to fight his way to each and every puck showed that the newest Crunch member has plenty of promise.
"When I watched the video, he actually made some tough saves, some point blank saves on some Grade-A chances that he really battled for," Zettler said.
"That's how I am in practice, and that's the way I play," said Gudlevskis, who was the fifth goalie in Crunch franchise history to post a shutout in his debut. "All of the shots are important; it doesn't matter if it's in a game or if it's a practice."
Gudlevskis was called up from the ECHL Florida Everblades last week after Syracuse netminder Riku Helenius went down with an upper body injury.
In two games with Florida this season, the 6-4 goalie went 2-0 with a .914 save percentage and 2.60 GAA.
In the preseason, he earned a longer look in Tampa Bay Lightning training camp by recording a shootout win over the St. Louis Blues. But the organizational depth in net pushed him down to the ECHL.
"It's a great organization we have, a great team, really strong," Gudlevskis said. "I think that we're going to have a really good year."
Gudlevskis played most of last season in the MHL, where he had a .927 save percentage and a 2.09 GAA in 56 games for HK Riga. In two games with Dinamo Riga of the KHL, he registered a .921 save percentage and a 2.18 GAA.
Despite those strong numbers, Gudlevskis caught the attention of the Lightning – who drafted him in the fifth round this year – with the exposure he received by playing for Latvia in the World Championships. Over four games, he posted a .925 save percentage and a 2.22 GAA.
"It's really hard to get here from Latvia," said Gudlevskis, who is only the second Latvian to suit up for the Crunch. "It's not so easy; I'm not a Sweden guy where there's lots of scouts and things like that."
Gudlevskis may have surprised some by not staying in the KHL, but he believes the choice to come to North America was an easy one.
"It wasn't a hard decision," Gudlevskis said. "When an NHL team offers you (an opportunity) to play here, you don't think a lot, you just go here. It's a big challenge for me, and I'm going to see how it goes."
With Helenius expected to miss at least another week, Gudlevskis has another chance to start for the Crunch.
Zettler wasn't sure whether Gudlevskis would be in the net against Albany Wednesday or sometime over the weekend, but he's not the only one with a tough decision. The admittedly superstitious Gudlevskis wasn't sure which mask he would be wearing when he was called upon.
"It's going to be a really hard choice," Gudlevskis said with a smile. "I need to talk to them – with the masks – to see what they think about it."