TORONTO — His team had just been embarrassed yet Martins Dzierkals couldn’t help but boast a giant smile.
The reason the Team Latvia forward was beaming was because, if his career unfolds the way he wants it to, he is getting a taste of life at the Air Canada Centre.
Dzierkals was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third round (68th overall) in 2015 and describes it as one of the happiest days of his life.
“It was amazing,” Dzierkals said after a 9-1 loss to Russia at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship Tuesday. “I was back home [in Latvia] and I didn’t even know I was going to get drafted and when I heard my name — I was watching it online — everyone was happy. Everyone was congratulating me. Friends, family, it was a big thing.”
The 19-year-old is one of the standout players on Latvia and hopes he can grow from his world juniors experience. His ultimate goal is to join a promising Maple Leafs team in the near future.
“They had a rough past [few] years but now they’re rebuilding and they have a lot of young talent and they’re looking really good this year,” Dzierkals said. “They’re going to keep building every year and they’re going to get a Cup for sure in the next couple of years and I want to be a part of it.”
Dzierkals has been enjoying success with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the QMJHL, averaging more than a point per game over the past season and a half.
He said he looked up to players like Sandis Ozolinsh, Arturs Irbe and the late Karlis Skrastins growing up. Seeing Latvians do well in the NHL inspired him and if Dzierkals fulfills his goal of becoming an everyday NHLer, he’ll be a player the next generation of Latvian players can look up to when they see him in a Maple Leafs jersey on the Air Canada Centre ice.
“This is not going to be the only time I’m going to play here,” Dzierkals added.