Sabres' Zemgus Girgensons playing for Team Latvia in Winter Olympics

Created: 02/15/2014 10:14 PM WHEC.com

The year 1980 set the bench mark for USA and Russian hockey games.

On Saturday the two nations played another one for the ages.

It was so thrilling, NBC switched its programming around to replay the finish of the game Saturday night in prime time.

News10NBC talked to a Buffalo Sabre who hit the ice just after that game in Sochi Saturday.

Latvia has not won an Olympic hockey game in their last 11 tries and are expected to finish last in Sochi

But these Latvian's are scrappy bunch, headlined by just one NHL player, Buffalo's Zemgus Girgensons.

The 20-year-old has grown up faster than most and there is still more to come.

“Playing for my national team means everything. It’s an honor to play for your country and it's a special moment when you are in the Olympics,” said Girgensons.

Girgensons says the past five years have flown by. The 20-year-old has accomplished more than most athletes have in a lifetime. At the age of 15 Girgensons left his home country Latvia, a nation of 2-million people boarding the west of Russia, to pursue a professional career in the states.

He was drafted in the fist round by the Sabres in 2012 and played last season for the Amerks. He is now the lone NHL player on the Latvian Olympic roster.

“It's pretty awesome. When I was younger I looked up to the players in the NHL and now I'm the only guy here, so I hope some young guys look up to me,” said Girgensons.

Girgensons plays center for Buffalo. He has 5 goals this season. His Latvian head coach had a front row seat for those because he is also the Sabers head coach. Ted Nolan is on the bench for the Latvian's making it a seamless transition for Zemgus.

“It makes everything easier. I played in the world championship with him and throughout the season we got to know each other better, so it makes everything easier” said Girgensons.

A boy who left his home to pursue his passion is now a man representing his country.

“It's nice to hear your own language on the team and put that Latvian sweater on,” said Girgensons.

Latvia was defeated by Sweden Saturday morning, finishing the prelims 0-3. The Latvians will play Tuesday in qualification to try to win a spot in to the quarterfinals.

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