Following Latvia’s shock 4-3 win over the United States on Sunday to clinch the bronze medal at the World Hockey Championship, parliament met at midnight and declared Monday a public holiday for the country to celebrate its national hockey team.
“It is our duty to keep this significant achievement of Latvian hockey players in the national memory of the society,” the parliament said in a statement. Celebrating this day together strengthens the national self-confidence and unity of Latvian society.
Court hearings have been canceled and schools and universities closed, while businesses have been thrown into chaos by the sensational announcement. The festival also allowed Latvian fans to welcome the team from Finland. According to Reuters, an AirBaltic plane made a low-altitude flight over central Riga and was greeted by thousands of fans.
On Monday afternoon, thousands gathered at the Statue of Liberty in downtown Riga to celebrate the historic achievement with the team.
Latvia, which co-hosts the tournament with Finland, has never finished better than seventh at the World Championships, having missed three appearances (1997, 2004, 2009). They finished 10th in last year’s tournament.
Defenseman Kristen Rubins was the hero, scoring the game-winning goal 1:22 into overtime to clinch the win. Goaltender Arturs Siloves was named tournament MVP for finishing with a 2.20 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. The 22-year-old was a sixth-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks in 2019 and spent this past season with AHL affiliate Abbotsford, also suiting up for five games with the Canucks.
The Latvian players in the team and those watching from home were very happy with the team’s results.
“I’m lucky to be a hockey player in Latvia because the people there love hockey so much,” forward Martins Dzirkals said. “I have no words to be a hockey player at this point.”
“You wouldn’t believe how proud I am,” Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins said in a since-deleted tweet. “Great work boys, everyone takes us seriously now… Great game. Even being on TV made me emotional. That’s what happens when you’re a small country and you have a lot of love for each other and you can beat anyone!”
Along with Silovs and Merzlikins, there are only three Latvian players in the NHL this season: Vegas Golden Knights forward Teddy Bluger, Buffalo Sabers forward Zemgus Girgensen and Tampa Bay Lightning forward Rudolphs Balsers.
Sandis Ozolinis is Latvia’s all-time NHL scoring leader with 564 wins in 875 career games, while Arturs Irbe is the nation’s most accomplished goaltender with 218 wins in 568 games.