By Alan Adams
May 3, 2004
PRAGUE, Czech Republic – Mention the word “Russia” to Arturs Irbe and be ready for a passionate dialogue about his homeland of Latvia.
Latvia gained its independence in 1918, but was invaded by the Nazis during the Second World War and then fell under the rule of the Soviet Union when the war ended. The Soviets may have oppressed the Latvians, but their passion for freedom never diminished.
The Soviet Union collapsed in 1990 and Latvia gained its independence in 1991 and it was a decade later when Irbe exacted revenge in the only way he knows how. He was in goal when Latvia beat Russia at the World Championships in 2000 and 2003 and he’d like nothing more to do them in again here at the world tournament in the Czech capital.
Irbe has the soul of a poet when he talks about Latvia and its history with Russia.
“It was on Independence Day (in Latvia) when we beat them both times and it does not get any better,” says Irbe. “It was food for the soul. I do not think I have really cried in my whole career by winning games or winning tournaments, but I cried and I am not in any way ashamed of it. That was the proudest moment being a Latvian as far as I can remember in my whole life.”