Latvians elevate hockey hero to All-Star status

Take note – story published 9 years and 5 months ago

Zemgus Girgensons, center forward for the Buffalo Sabres, topped the popular National Hockey League’s (NHL) All-Star vote tally late Friday night, earning a total of 1,574,896 fan-votes from his passionately supportive fellow countryfolk in Latvia, and likely a smattering of Buffalo aficionados as well.

The second-year NHL player from Latvia will thus automatically join Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook – all from the Chicago Blackhawks team, as the first Sabre to be named an All-Star starter since 2007. Girgensons led Kane, the second most-popular nominee to the All-Star Game weekend, scheduled to be played in Columbus on January 24-25, by more than 340,000 votes.

Fans cast more than 35 million votes this year, up 52 percent from the 2012 NHL All-Star fan campaign. Nearly 27 percent of those votes were cast by fans outside of North America, up 7,000 percent from 2012.

As NHL.com reported, Girgensons’ former coach Jim Montgomery (under whose tutelage he played as a Dubuque Fighting Saint in the US Hockey League) called the young Latvian player “magnetic.” Now at the University of Denver, Montgomery told the Toronto Globe and Mail that “people are drawn to him for good reasons. It doesn't matter what group he's in, he leads in the right direction. He's pulling people toward healthy outcomes. I follow him on Twitter and we still communicate quite often. And I see on Twitter, the starting quarterback for the Bills is wearing a Zemgus Girgensons Sabres jersey and he's wearing the quarterback's jersey when he goes to Bills games. He immerses himself in the culture he's in and he embraces it, and I think people really embrace him because he's genuine."

On his part, 20-year old Girgensons tried to downplay the frenzy. “It’s going to be a good thing to do,” he said at Madison Square Garden Saturday night before the Sabre’s 6-1 loss to the New York Rangers. “I haven’t really talked to anyone that much about it. It hasn’t been my focus at all lately. I’ve been focusing on games and haven’t really been talking about that to my family.”

But his current coach Ted Nolan expressed no surprise whatsoever at the Latvian’s emergence seemingly out of nowhere. “Anybody who’s seen the Buffalo Sabres play in the last year and a half, they certainly know who Zemgus is,” Nolan said. “Now the rest of the hockey community will really know who he is.”

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