MADISON, Wis. — HC Riga 2000 made its United States debut on Tuesday night, losing 3-2 to the Wisconsin Badgers. The team, from Riga, Latvia, is here on a 10-day, three-game international tour of the WCHA. Latvian fans were abundant at the Kohl Center, waving flags and chanting throughout the game, but to no avail.
For the Badgers, it was the same old story. Though the game was an exhibition and does not count toward their record or their nation-leading unbeaten streak, it was a victory nonetheless. It also gave them an opportunity to put players on the ice that do not normally play every weekend.
With its entire top line out of the lineup and resting up for another WCHA series this weekend, it gave another line a chance to prove themselves, and they did just that. The sophomore line of A.J. Degenhardt, Nick Licari and Adam Burish came through big with six points.
“Yesterday they pulled our group together and said ‘This is a chance for you guys to show us what you can do as our top line,’” Burish said.
“The one thing you know about that line is that they give you energy,” coach Mike Eaves said. “No matter who they play they give you the same energy game in and game out.”
Riga got on top early with a goal from Grigors Pantelejevs, with an assist from captain Ronald Ozolinsh, brother of NHL star Sandis. Pantelejevs is the oldest member of the team at age 31 while the youngest, Kaspars Daugavins at age 15, saw some ice time but had no shots.
Deghenhardt tied it up with a great individual effort, but Riga countered again with a goal from Edgars Zaltkovskis,
Licari then scored in the second and Burish got his goal in the third to seal the victory for the Badgers. Licari and Riga goalie Edgars Masalskis were awarded the MVP’s of their respective teams after the game.
The exhibition could have proven to be a distraction to this team, which is currently the hottest team in the country. But instead they just saw it as a change from the normal schedule and a chance to go out and have a little bit of fun.
“We looked at this game as a mid-week scrimmage,” Eaves said. “We would scrimmage this time of the week anyways. [I'm] satisfied with the win, but I think a lot of our players could have played better.”
“It was just another thing that we had to do,” Licari said. “Even though we came out a little slow, we ended up winning the game, and even though it’s an exhibition game, we kept the streak going and are still undefeated here at the Kohl Center.”
The exhibition also gave Wisconsin a chance to get freshman goalie Brian Elliott some time in between the pipes. He has already won his first two regular-season starts and is proving his worth as a backup goalie to Bernd Bruckler. Although he got off to a shaky start, he relaxed in the second and third periods and made some excellent saves to hold Riga to two goals.
“Being a Tuesday game it’s hard to get into it right after school,” Elliott said. “But we have to get through that stuff.”
“If you’re going to be a good team you need depth,” Eaves said. “By getting Brian some play time he gives you that depth in the net. So far he has been pretty good.”
Wisconsin’s momentum continues heading into this weekend. Up to the seventh spot in the polls this week and unbeaten in its last 12 games, it takes on Minnesota State in a home series Friday and Saturday.
HC Riga 2000 continues its WCHA tour with games against Minnesota on Thursday and Minnesota-Duluth next Monday.