By, Jake Aferiat
Latvia: Most people have only heard of this small European nation with around 2 million people, and most people wouldn’t expect that someone from this small country would be the leading vote-getter for the NHL All-Star Game. However, on January 25th, that was the case.
The NHL All-Star Game works in an interesting fashion. There are two teams, a First and a Second team, each with six players (3 forwards, 2 defenseman, and 1 goalie). This year the First All-Star Team is comprised of 5 Chicago Blackhawks and 1 Buffalo Sabre. That Sabre’s name: Zemgus Girgensons.
Girgensons hails from Latvia whose top hockey memory is an upset over Switzerland at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. There have been only 31 Latvians to play in the NHL, and so far only two have been named All-Stars: Girgensons and Sandis Ozolinsh.
Girgensons’ stats are actually quite unremarkable. In his 41 games played this season, he has recorded 20 points (11 goals 9 assists), making him 140th in the NHL. Despite a poor statistical showing, the people of Latvia rallied behind Girgensons as he received 1,574,896 votes. He finished 342,000 votes ahead of the next highest vote-getter, Chicago Blackhawks player Patrick Kane.
In response to all of the voting, Girgensons said, “it’s nice to have that support.”
Buffalo has been atrocious this season. They have only 78 Goals For compared to 140 Goals against, they’ve also won only 14 games this season and have lost five in a row. The Sabres are a storied franchise, despite not having much recent success. Girgensons is the first member of the team to be named an All-Star Game starter since Goalie Ryan Miller in 2007, and is the 30th member of the franchise to appear in an All-Star Game.
The ironic part is that Girgensons, while thankful for the support, does not like talking about the subject, and has been seen discussing it only briefly to reporters. Like it or not, the topic will be brought up day after day until the All-Star Game on January 25th, and probably for a fair amount of time after the All-Star Game.
It is amazing to see just how much support there is out there, and Girgensons’ case exemplifies what a fan vote is all about-by the fans and for the fans. Good for Latvia for rallying behind their player. As a result of Latvian support, overnight in the hockey world, Zemgus Girgensons went from being a nobody to a somebody.
Girgensons said, “It will be something” when asked to describe what he imagines the experience will be like.