by Lisa Brown on 06/18/13 at 12:00 AM ET
The hockey world was shocked by the passing of young Latvian, and Oilers' prospect Kristians Pelss. Shocking, heartbreaking and tragic, the loss of Pelss touched upon the heart strings of anyone who heard the story. While we may never know what happened last Monday in Latvia, we do know that the friends and family of Pelss will never forget, will never completely be able to move on. And for them, we mourn.
Kristians Pelss was one in a million, considered one of Latvia's best young hockey players in 2010 when he was selected in the 7th round, 181st by the Edmonton Oilers. Pelss was the first Latvian selected since 2006, a 4 year drought for a proud European country.
While the Latvians may not be the strongest hockey country, they compete at every opportunity. And the same can be said of Pelss.
Captaining the 2012 World Junior Latvian team, Pelss couldn't escape the media spotlight. Most of the team struggled to speak English and it was Pelss who would have to stand front and centre facing all of the media attention. He was requested because he was an Oil King, he was requested because he was an Oiler prospect, he was requested because he was the team captain, and he stayed because his teammates needed him. And worst of all, most of the media questions were depressing, Latvia lost all four games in their pool, but beat Denmark for the opportunity to play in 2013. Loss after loss, Pelss took all questions, not with a smile, but with an air of determination and pride.
While Latvia may not have won their matches at the 2012 World Juniors, it did give Pelss the opportunity to play against Oil King teammates, and fellow Oiler prospects including Martin Gernat. Otherwise, the two were rarely seen apart. While everyone who knew Pelss feel loss, my heart especially goes out to Martin Gernat, who lost a teammate and good friend, someone with whom Gernat found a special bond and partner in learning English. The two looked forward to playing on the Oklahoma City Barons team together, and hoped to one day share the Oilers' bench.
Pelss played this season with both the Stockton Thunder and the Oklahoma City Barons, netting just 1 goal and 8 points in 20 games played in the AHL and 2 goals and 5 points through 13 games in the ECHL. But the stats don't tell the whole story, Pelss showed promise, heart and enough skill to earn the accolades of coach Todd Nelson who said "He’s way more responsible defensively that I gave him credit for. He has tremendous speed but part of his game that I didn’t know he had was his grit. He has to play and get the minutes but I think he has an opportunity to be a third- or fourth-line penalty-kill role player in the NHL.”
Pelss was stronger, tougher, and braver than his smaller stature, and outward appearance may suggest. He always had a smile for everyone, he always made the most of every opportunity and he will be missed. Rest in peace Kristians, you may be gone, but you will not be forgotten.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
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