SOCHI, Russia — Latvia’s Kristers Gudlevskis got hit with so many shots, you began wondering whether he’d need a cut man by the end.
Gudlevskis wasn’t boxing — but he looked like someone who had just been in a fight. The Tampa Bay Lightning prospect faced 57 shots, giving up just two goals in Latvia’s surprising 2-1 quarterfinal loss Wednesday night to mighty Canada.
“That was one of the best goaltending performances I’ve ever seen,” said Team Canada goaltender Carey Price, the Montreal Canadiens’ three-time NHL All-Star.
Gudlevskis, 21, couldn’t remember a busier night, nor a more nerve-wracking one.
He was still catching his breath 10 minutes after the game, his long hair and jersey soaked through with sweat. His helmet was tucked under one arm, a picture of the Freedom Monument from back home in Riga — commemorating Latvia’s long struggle for independence — depicted just above the facemask.
Even in defeat, Gudlevskis imagined his countrymen would find something worth celebrating.
“We were disappointed,” he said afterward, “because we tried to make a miracle today and we just couldn’t do it.”
After starting against Sweden earlier in the week, Gudlevskis was playing in only his second Olympic contest.
Canada’s Shea Weber finally broke a 1-1 tie for the defending Olympic champions with a slap shot from the point that beat Gudlevskis low on the stick side. It was Canada’s 54th shot of the game; at that point, Latvia had put 13 on net.
Gudlevskis was the fifth-round pick in last year’s entry draft by the Lightning. He gets most of his playing time currently with the Syracuse Crunch, but the reflexes and poise he showed turning back Canada’s potent attack time and again could turn some heads in the big-time.
“Watching him today was a lot of fun,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Wednesday afternoon, when the Lightning returned to practice in Brandon. “I’m sure he left a lump in a lot of Canadian throats today, but it was great to watch him compete and watch his development.
“I think it gives you the ability confidence-wise to say, ‘Hey I can play with the best players in the world,’ because those were some of the best players in the world that were going at it with him.”
The respect Gudlevskis garnered was apparent at the end, when his teammates came over to the bench and one by one, lined up to give him a hug or say a few quiet words.
“I play for my teammates, because they play so good every game,” said Gudlevskis, who has played mostly for the Lightning’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse lately. “They did everything tonight and I just wanted to give them the opportunity to win this game. ... You start to believe and then you just work hard.”
Reporter Erik Erlendsson contributed to this report.