Interview with Gustavs Grigals

Recently, we had the chance to catch up with another goalie from the Latvian side in the 20016 IIHF U18 World Championships. We have interviewed goalie Mareks Mitens  recently and we recently interviewed Gustavs Grigals.

Grigals was named one of the top three players for the Latvian side at the tournament and his combined efforts with Mitens helped the Latvian side avoid relegation in a harrowing three game series against Denmark.

This past season, Grigals was outstanding for his HK Riga side in the Russian Junior League (MHL). The net minder had a 2.36 Goals Against average and a sterling 92.6 save percentage. In addition, Gustavs helped the Latvia U20 side gain promotion to the World Juniors Championship being held in Montreal and Toronto this upcoming December.

Below are Grigals’ answers to our questions.

What is your favorite memory of the season?

“My favorite memory is a game in the Russian Junior Hockey League (MHL) against the league champions “Loko” from Yaroslavl where I was able to save all 40 shots. Also, I have good memories about the World Junior Championship Division 1 in Austria where we won and got promoted to the 2017 World Junior Championship.”

What was favorite thing you did in grand forks besides playing hockey?

“We did not have a lot of spare time, but with the time I had I enjoyed seeing the local college life and exploring the city.”

What are your pro hockey goals for next year and beyond?

“I want to play at a high level and become a stable and good goalie whilst getting good education. Also, I want to make the U20 team and play in the World Championships in Toronto.”

What where your thoughts on the overall tournament experience in Grand Forks?

“It was a well organized and overall a great tournament. It was an excellent experience to play against the world’s best players and teams.”

What NHL goalie do you model your game after?

“I try to watch every goalie and pick something from everyone. I love watching some goalies like, Carey Price because he is very calm and skilled and Jonathan Quick because he is flexible and quick.”

What was your favorite aspect of your team at the tournament this year?

“I liked that we were like a family. The players really helped each other and the goalies. They blocked many shots and sacrificed themselves for the team.”

What is your favorite non hockey hobby?

“In my free time, I love to spend some time with my family and friends, go to the school and try to relax. I also enjoy spending time with my dog and teaching it new commands.”

What is the biggest improvement to your game you have made in the past year?

“The biggest improvement for me this season was that I started to play at a higher level as I was able to play in the U18 and U20 world championships in the same season. It inspired me to work harder, to become better every day. I believe that if you work hard good things will happen.”

 

Stats: http://www.eliteprospects.com/player.php?player=280628

 

Mareks Mitens Interview

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Recently, we had a chance to catch up with Latvian Under-18 National Team goalie Mareks Mitens. He had one of the most eye-opening performances of the tournament with a 43 save effort in an overtime loss to Sweden. His Latvian side was nineteen seconds away from beating an Alex Nylander lead Swedish side in regulation. A win there  probably gives the Latvian side a quarterfinals entry. Mitens helped his side avoid relegation with a shootout win over Denmark in the deciding game three.He came off of the bench just to play the shootout which is quite impressive. Check out some highlights of his work at the link below.

Latvia vs. Sweden

Here are the Latvian netminder’s answers to our questions.

What is your favorite memory of the season?

“1) I had a serious groin injury this season,so i didn’t play a lot. And because of that this championship is the best memory i have for this season.”

What was a high and a low of the tournament?

2) “One of the best moments for sure was game against Sweden. Sadly that we lost it,but that game gave as confidence. But the best moment was last game against Danes. Where we came back from being down by 2 goals and won it in SO. It was an amazing feeling when I stopped the last shot. That game showed that we are a really team and we are going to stand up for each other.”

“Lowest points for us was probably games against USA and Russia. Probably we were too confident and those teams put us back in place where we belong. For me,the game agais Russia was the weakest. Not sure why,but that day just was unlucky for us.”

What was favorite thing you did in Grand Forks besides playing hockey?

3)”We didn’t do anything much besides hockey. Just went shopping and that’s it. But it was much different than Europe. It was nice to see a college lifestyle,just like in movies.”

What are your pro hockey goals for next year and beyond ?

4)”Not sure right now about my future, when i get back home, i will talk with my agent and then know something more. But for sure my goal is to make NCAA Division 1 Hockey and after that to play in NHL,as every hockey player”.

What where your thoughts on the overall tournament experience in Grand Forks ?

5) “It was a great tournament with a highly skilled players and teams. I played last year in U18 too, and thought this year it wont surprise me,but teams were really good, enjoyed watching other games and most important thing, playing against some of the best teams and future NHL stars. It was an amazing experience. ”

What NHL goalie do you model your game after?

6) “It is not like I’m watching one goalie and trying to play like him. I try to watch every goalie and pick a bit from everyone. I love the watching old goalies like Hasek and Brodeur. Cause these goalies were battling for every puck,and it doesn’t matter for them how they stopped the puck.”

What was your favorite aspect of your team at the tournament this year ?

7) “I really liked that we were like a family, there was a connection with us. But players really helped each other. They blocked so many shots, if someone made a mistake, other ones was trying to cheer them up. The team spirit is what i liked the most.”

What is your favorite non hockey hobby?

8) “Besides hockey I love travelling. I’ve been in so many countries and there is a lot of countries I still want to visit. In free time I watch a lot of movies or tv series. I’m a big fan of Blacklist. And i like solving puzzles or doing some brain games.”

What is the biggest improvement to your game you have made the past year ?
9) “The biggest improvement for me,this season, was that I started playing and practicing smarter. I didn’t rush on anything. Hard work can lead you to injuries. Thats the reason I had an injury. After the injury I started practicing smarter, and Im feeling better now. and I became mentally stronger.”

 

Five Games Five Predictions-U18 Worlds

After a competitive preliminary round at the U18 World Championships we have the quarterfinal and relegation round match ups set. Eight teams remain in the battle for the gold medal, while Denmark and Latvia are fighting to remain in the top division for the 2017 U18 World Championships. Here are some thoughts/predictions for each game in these rounds. I will also predict the result of the relegation series.

Denmark-Latvia

First, a credit to both teams. Each team had its high points in the preliminary round despite not winning a game. Denmark nearly upset Slovakia losing a close one goal game. Latvia lost two heartbreakers in overtime to Switzerland and Sweden. Latvia was 19 seconds away from upsetting perennial power Sweden. Based on what I have seen in this tournament, I think Latvia will come away victorious. The Latvian side has blocked a high amount of shots, and goalie Mareks Mitens kept them in the Sweden matchup with a 43 save performance.

Prediction: Latvia wins the series in two games 2-1, and 3-1 to stay in the top division.

Finland-Russia

Both sides have gotten better as the tournament has gone on. After an 8-2 loss to the USA side, Russia’s play has improved. Goalie Danil Tarasov has played well for the Russian side throughout the tournament, and has kept them in the games he has started. Pavel Dyomin has played exceptionally well this tournament, and helped the Russian side win in OT over the upstart Swiss side. Finland has gotten better thanks to the addition of top three 2016 NHL Draft pick Jesse Puljujarvi. The fantastic Finnish forward has an outstanding shot and a knack for finding the right spot to be on the ice no matter the situation with high situational awareness. Forward Eeli Tolvanen has showcased his skills and will be a player to watch as well. Tolvanen is a pure sniper and some of his goals this tournament have been outstanding. His effort against Denmark was one to watch. In addition, the Fins play an outstanding defense. The best example of this is their complete shutout in the third vs. Denmark. The Finnish side gave up no shots on net during this period. Finland has the better top-end talent with a strong defense backing it up.

Prediction: Finland wins 3-1.

Canada-Switzerland

Canada fought off Finland in their last game of group play to win group B. They did so with a strong two goal first period and superb goaltending from Evan Fitzpatrick. In this quarterfinal round it will be key for Canada to start strong. If Canada can win the first then they will win the match. Switzerland hung with the American side on Tuesday for most of the match thanks to decent goaltending from Phillip Wuthrich who made 33 saves. If the Swiss hang around like Denmark did for a period (2-2 after one) this one may get a little too interesting for the Canadians, if not then I expect the Canadians to win handily thanks to their strong all around play keyed by UND commit Tyson Jost who is battling Alex Nylander of Sweden for the tournament scoring title.

Prediction: Canada wins 5-1

Sweden-Slovakia

Slovakia rallied against the Czech side to win Tuesday evening. The Swedish side has looked strong since its defeat against the United States. The Slovak side has the best penalty kill in the tournament. In 19 chances the Slovaks have allowed only one power play tally. This reliance on defense will play a key role in this matchup. In addition, goaltender Roman Durny has kept his side in every match he has played in. For the Slovaks to pull off the upset they will need to block a lot of shots and give Durny a chance. If they do this one could get interesting. I see Sweden, led by Alex Nylander, winning this match although it will be the closest of any of the quarterfinal games due to the strong Slovak defense.

Prediction: 2-0 Sweden

USA-Czech Republic

The American side has been dominant for the majority of its time in this tournament. Logan Brown is playing like a higher-skilled version of Milan Lucic and very rarely gets knocked off of the puck. Keiffer Bellows and Clayton Keller have been phenomenal. Both are fast high skilled players with great hockey IQ’s and outstanding shots. The Czech side will need huge contributions from the likes of Ondrej Vala to have a chance in this one. He has impressed me with his net-front presence throughout the tournament, and Czech goalie Josef Korenar will have to be perfect for the Czechs to have a chance. This one will start close, but the American side will prevail in the end.

Prediction: USA 6-1

 

 

Seamore Sports On AIH20416

Tonight I had the chance to participate in the AIH20416 podcast with two excellent hosts Phillip Alver and Alan. We talked about UND Hockey, the fan experience at the Ralph Englestad Arena, and various NHL Draft prospects eligible for this year’s draft in Buffalo. The Seamore sports segment is the last one but this is an excellent podcast and this episode is worthy of a full listen. Thanks again to Phillip Alver and to Alan for inviting me and Seamore Sports on the podcast.

http://www.cyberears.com/index.php/Browse/playaudio/29521

5 Teams 5 Thoughts-Group B

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So far,Canada has lead the way in Group B. Here are some thoughts on all teams in Group B of the 2016 IIHF Men’s U18 World Championship

Canada

The Canadian side is the group best equipped to play the Americans. They have it all. Most importantly, the team has gotten strong goal-tending from Evan Fitzpatrick and Stuart Skinner. Fitzpatrick had a better outing against the Czech side Saturday night than Skinner did against Denmark. Evan Fitzpatrick displayed outstanding rebound control and bailed his team out multiple times. All of Canada’s defenseman have strong shots.Forward Jordan Kyrou had an outstanding night against Denmark with four goals. Finally, Tyson Jost has looked outstanding this tournament. He has set his teammates up for multiple chances and has been one of the best players in the tournament so far.

Finland

The Finnish side just got a lot better as Jesse Puljujarvi is coming to play for them after his season in Finland ended. He is an all-around forward that will give Finland the tools they need to challenge Canada for the Group B Title and a chance to avoid a strong American side until the finals.

Denmark

The Denmark side has had an unfortunate run of things in this tournament. After playing a strong Slovak side to within a goal in regulation the team lost 10-2 to Canada. Denmark showed signs of promise in that match as they capitalized on their chances in the first twenty minutes and made it a 2-2 match. After the power outage ended, Canada woke up and Denmark could not do anything to stop them.

Czech Republic

Even in defeat yesterday, the Czech side was impressive. Ondrej Vala did a nice job establishing a constant net front presence, and the Czech defense and goaltending kept them in the match. The Czech side needs to have better starts the next two matches to secure a spot in the quarterfinals.

Slovakia

After avoiding an upset against Denmark the Slovak side lost in regulation to Finland. The Finnish side had a decent match. Slovakia plays a decent game and as long as they can keep things close in their last two pool play matches they should be on track for a spot in the quarterfinals. Slovak goaltender Roman Durny needs to have a strong performance the rest of the way to give his side a chance to advance past the quarters.

 

 

 

5 Teams 5 thoughts-2016 U18 Worlds

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Grand Forks, ND

The first three days of the 2016 IIHF Men’s World U18 Championship have been full of action-packed games, gut-wrenching endings and stellar play from all teams. Here are some thoughts on each team in Group A involved. Look for more regarding group B tomorrow.

Group A

USA

Wow. This whole team is one of the better USA teams I have seen compete in a long while. Every player is buying in to coach Danton Cole’s system, and every player has top-flight skill. Forward Kiefer Bellows seems to be auditioning to make the World Juniors team next year with his outstanding play. Forward Logan Brown, to me, is stronger on the puck than some NHL forwards were at his age. I have not seen him lose many puck battles in the two games he has played in during this tournament. Both of these players need to continue their strong start for the USA to finish this tournament with the gold.

Latvia

Two things here: The Latvian defense has sold out to make every shot block and pass block over their first two matches. Keying that defense has been the goalie, Mareks Mitens. Mittens kept his team in the match all game vs. Sweden. Mitens made some otherworldly saves I have not seen NHL goalies make. If Latvia is to avoid relegation they need 2 more stellar performances from their defense and Mitens.

Russia

After a less than stellar outing Thursday night, Russia came back to win in overtime against Switzerland on Saturday. Their team seemed to settle in after being rattled by the magnitude of the opener vs. the American side Thursday night. Danil Tarasov had a respectable game in net and allowed Russia the chance to win on a superb breakaway by Pavel Dyomin. If Russia can hold like today their side can surprise some teams going forward.

Switzerland

After a thrilling overtime winner vs Latvia Thursday the Swiss side found itself on the other side of the coin Saturday as Russia took the extra point in the overtime session. Lead by Nico Hischier, Switzerland finds itself second in group A with 3 points. If Switzerland can find some secondary scoring, they can assure themselves a date in the quarterfinals.

Sweden

Sweden needs goaltending. Filip Larson has allowed nine goals on 29 shots so far. This 76.32 save percentage is the lowest of all qualifying goalies in the tournament. Larson is not solely to blame, from the two games seen so far the Swedish defense has allowed a fair amount of tough chances for him to stop. In addition, top talent Alex Nylander has played well and saved his team’s bacon with a short side snipe vs Latvia, and did register a point today, however if Sweden avoids relegation the side needs secondary scoring and goal tending to advance.