Team Latvia made history on Sunday, winning the nation’s first-ever medal at the 2023 IIHF World Championship. Defenseman Kristians Rubins scored twice, including the overtime-winner to defeat the United States 4-3.
Both the team and the country as a whole responded to the win with exuberant celebration. Though Latvia co-hosted the championship, the bronze-medal game was played in Tampere, Finland.
Latvian fans still turned out in droves, with the celebration growing even larger when the team returned to Riga on Monday.
Riga is sheer madness after the bronze medal. The heroes are received by some 50.000 or more fans at the Freedom Monument. The airline flew the team for free from Tampere, the plane was painted in 🇱🇻, music bands play for free, the government announced official day off @lhf_lv pic.twitter.com/Dqws7KBFxU
— EuropeanHockeyClubs (@EHCAlliance) May 29, 2023
“When I grew up, when all boys grew up, we never imagined actually to play in the quarters,” Latvian forward Roberts Bukarts said after the victory. “Now we show to young guys, this is the goal. This is possible. This dream came to reality.”
Fans back home celebrated the win by leaving flowers at the American Embassy in Riga, a national tradition after winning an international game. Even Latvian president Egils Levits joined in, adding a few blooms to the avalanche of flowers.
Thank you for the game! 🥉🇱🇻🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/wiodVWjwHd
— Egils Levits (@valstsgriba) May 29, 2023
The Latvian parliament joined in on the festivities themselves. In a late-night session Sunday night, they would unanimously declare Monday a national holiday in honor of the win. Multiple members of parliament showed up in the team’s jerseys, and the legislature took only 10 minutes to make their decision.
— Saeimas ziņas (@Jekaba11) May 28, 2023
By the time the team returned home, their country had prepared a heroes’ welcome. In a nation of 1.88 million people, a sea of red and white filled the streets of Riga. Fans cheered as the team’s plane flew overhead, growing only louder once players came to greet the crowd.
LV team arrival in Riga🇱🇻 pic.twitter.com/I1GTRuTAR4
— VR (@ValtersRolands) May 29, 2023
What a welcome for the Latvian hero 🇱🇻
🎥: Kristians Rubins pic.twitter.com/6xopWKNdFJ
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) May 29, 2023
The team put up a spectacular performance in the tournament, vastly outperforming expectations. Latvia had never placed above seventh before this year, where they eliminated the powerhouse of Team Sweden in a major upset before losing to Canada in the semifinals. Arturs Silovs, a goaltending prospect for the Canucks, won tournament MVP, putting up a 40-save performance in the quarterfinals and making 26 saves in the bronze-medal game. Even without a gold medal, Latvia had plenty to celebrate.
We should all embrace our semi-victories, just as Latvia celebrates its historic bronze medal at the hockey world championship. I mean it! pic.twitter.com/D5zRAC2BTO
— Anastasia Stognei (@NastyaStognei) May 29, 2023
Screenshot: Kristians Rubins via @NHLFlames/Twitter
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