Nanook Corner: Karlis Zirnis brings Nanook hockey to the International Stage, leads Latvian National Team

Published: Jan. 8, 2019 at 8:34 PM AKST
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The Christmas Break opened up a special opportunity for one of the coaches on the Alaska Nanook Hockey team.

Nanook Hockey assistant coach Karlis Zirnis was able to take some time away from Fairbanks to go to Germany earlier this month to coach his home country in the 2018 World Junior Championships.

Zirnis, who is from Riga, Latvia, has led the team in each of the past two years and relishes the opportunity to lead his home country.

"It's always... representing your country is a huge honor. Going over there and being the coach of the U–20 team was fun and a good experience for me," said Zirnis.

This year Latvia competed in group A, along with Austria, Belarus, France, Norway, and Germany. They finished fourth with a 2–3 record. Germany won the group with a 4–1 record. These teams are made up of the best that every country has to offer at the under–20 level, allowing Zirnis to witness and guide some of the best talent in the world.

"There were a lot of college players that played in it that, during the break, represented their countries during the world championship. A lot of junior players, and a lot of players who have played Pro Hockey. The level is really comparable to the college level. Again, it's an honor representing my country, representing my family, it's one of those moments that you're going to remember for the rest of your life," said Zirnis.

One player who Nanook fans should be acquainted with who played for Zirnis in the world games is goaltender Gustavs Grigals.

The freshman from Latvia played for his country in the past two world championships.

"Before every game you know that you represent your country. It's so hard to describe that feeling. That's a lifetime experience that I'll never forget," said Grigals.

This event also gave Coach Zirnis a chance to extend the Nanook Hockey brand internationally.

"Part of me going up there is going to watch players and recruit. Like Coach said if I'm going to do this, part of it is going up there and recruit and try to get the Alaska Brand out there and help out our program to get the players internationally who are interested in coming to play college hockey," said Zirnis.