The little team that almost took down Team Canada at the Olympics may end up having their efforts wiped out of the record books.
Latvia’s national men’s hockey team is facing possible disqualification from the Games – which could include nixing their eighth place finish and the resulting boost in the world rankings – after a second player is suspected to have tested positive for a banned substance in Sochi.
Last week, Latvian player Vitalijs Pavlovs was found to have methylhexaneamine (dimethylpentylamine) in his system after playing against Canada in what became a 2-1 quarter-final loss.
Under International Olympic Committee rules, teams aren’t punished unless more than one player commits an anti-doping rule violation. That’s why Nicklas Backstrom’s disqualification for use of allergy medication hasn’t affected Sweden’s silver medal even though he was not allowed to participate in Sunday’s gold-medal final.
The IOC is still investigating the second Latvian case and the offending player’s name has yet to be officially released, although reports out of Latvia are that it was Bowling Green State University defenceman Ralfs Freibergs.
The entire team may be subject to “target testing” if it’s determined multiple athletes failed tests, and the IOC can subsequently withhold funding from the Latvian Olympic Committee.
Latvia would become the first Olympic hockey team to have two players test positive for banned substances in a single Games.
“Further information on this issue will be for the IOC disciplinary commission meeting in Lausanne,” Latvian Olympic Committee secretary general Zorzs Tikmers told sportacentrs.com on Friday.
Latvia’s eighth place finish in Sochi was the country’s best placing ever at the Games in its fifth appearance, surpassing their ninth place finish in Salt Lake City in 2002. It improved Latvia’s world ranking to 10th, which could affect its seeding and participation in future international tournaments.
Led by Buffalo Sabres head coach Ted Nolan, the Latvian team made headlines at the Olympics for advancing past the elimination stage with a surprise win over Switzerland and played Canada to a 1-1 draw for most of the quarter-final game on the strength of a 55-save performance by 21-year-old netminder Kristers Gudlevskis.
After spending the season in the ECHL and AHL, Gudlevskis has now joined the Tampa Bay Lightning, and could make his first start in the NHL this weekend. That would make him the first ever goalie to play in all three leagues and the Olympics in one season.
His success, however, could be overshadowed by what’s happening with his country, especially if Latvia ultimately becomes the first hockey team to be disqualified for a doping violation.