Newspaper article International New York Times

Votes Pile Up for Latvian to Be N.H.L. All-Star ; Buffalo Center Leads Fan Balloting Thanks to Online Push from Baltics

Newspaper article International New York Times

Votes Pile Up for Latvian to Be N.H.L. All-Star ; Buffalo Center Leads Fan Balloting Thanks to Online Push from Baltics

Article excerpt

Latvians are flooding the All-Star voting in favor of their countryman Zemgus Girgensons, who has more than twice as many votes as his nearest competitor.

They rank last in goals scored, and despite a recent winning streak, the Buffalo Sabres have sat near the bottom of the National Hockey League standings since the first weeks of the season.

Yet Buffalo is an unlikely leader in at least one category: Zemgus Girgensons, a 20-year-old center, has been annihilating the competition in fan voting for the 2015 All-Star Game, to be played in Columbus, Ohio, next month.

How a second-year player who does not rank among the top 100 scorers this season has amassed more than twice as many votes as top stars like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews of Chicago and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins has stirred speculation. The only Latvian player in the N.H.L., Girgensons appears to be the beneficiary of nationalistic frenzy in his home country, a nation on the Baltic Sea with just over two million people.

"The whole nation is behind him right now," said Arturs Irbe, Buffalo's goaltending coach and a native of Latvia who played in the N.H.L. for parts of 13 seasons. "They don't want to let it go. Unless the N.H.L. changes their voting rules, it might be a regular occurrence."

The N.H.L. permits up to 10 ballots per electronic device in a 24- hour period. The players with the most votes at each of six positions -- three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie -- make the All-Star Game.

Irbe described a social media campaign in Latvia that has prompted friends and family back home to vote diligently each day for Girgensons. "People right now feel like it's their duty to help him get in, and get the most votes," he said.

Through the third week of polling, released Tuesday, Girgensons had amassed 803,805 votes. Kane, a slick winger with a resume that includes two Stanley Cup championships and a Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the playoffs, trailed in a distant second with 375,758. …

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