Kristians Pelss has already become one of our favorites at The Copper & Blue. On a site that revels in rooting for the underdog, an unknown Latvian is the perfect prospect to catch our attention. As we learned from Didzis Rudmanis of the Latvian Hockey News Report, Pelss spent Junior time in Belarus and made the jump to North America as soon as he was able. He was drafted in the WHL import draft by the Edmonton Oil Kings (how convenient) and has been acclimating to the North American game since the summer. Kristians was kind enough to sit down with us to answer a couple of questions and Didzis was kind enough to do the dirty work, serving as translator. After the jump, our one-on-one with Kristians Pelss.
Copper & Blue: How did you find out about being drafted? Were you surprised when you found out?
Kristians Pelss: I found out about it accidentally – my father went on to the internet and right at that time, the Oilers picked me – we were slightly surprised, but naturally, also happy about that.
C&B: Did the Oilers show interest in you prior to the draft? Were you ever aware of the Oilers scouting you?
Pelss: I never thought that someone was scouting me. However, I knew that about 200 scouts attended the U18 World Championships in Minsk, and I tried to play as good as possible. It was probably the only time they could see me live.
C&B: Nearly all Latvian players familiar to North Americans are from Riga, and in fact, you were the first player drafted from your area. Have you become something of a local celebrity?
Pelss: I don’t think that I have become a local celebrity. Most of the time I am not home – I am usually only in Preili for about one month during the summer. Also, I don’t think that people would recognize me on the street. By the way, a good friend of mine, Vitalijs Hvorostinins, was also picked during the CHL Import Draft and now plays for the Val-d’Ior Foreurs of the QMJHL.
C&B: When did you make the decision to move to the WHL? Did you have strong feelings about staying in Latvia? Moving 7200 kilometers from home is an enormous undertaking for an 18 year-old, not to mention understanding and learning the differences in the game from Europe to North America - how did you prepare for this?
Pelss: When I found out that I was picked during the CHL Import Draft I was willing to cross the pond as soon as possible. I was only slightly concerned about the language barrier, as I knew that my English would be insufficient. During the summer I often went to the gym, as well as the stadiums. I worked together with Vitalijs to get in better physical shape. After all, it is easier to exercise if you are not alone.
C&B: Does the the speed of the North American game help a faster player like yourself?
Pelss: I like the North American style of play as it is physically tougher than the one played in Europe. It also helps me to develop into a hockey player and I hope I am doing well.
C&B: Have you had to change your game or style because of the smaller ice surface? How long do you think it will take for you to be comfortable with the style in the WHL?
Pelss: As I already mentioned, in North America the game is a lot more physical, meaning that you must play way faster. Initially it was tough, but it gets easier with time. I believe the more I play, the sooner I will get used to it.
C&B: Is there a language barrier that you have to overcome and how has that affected your billet family?
Pelss: Yes, there is, and my billet family helps me a lot – I am teaching them to speak Latvian and they are helping me with my English. I believe my language has improved a lot already since my arrival in Canada.
C&B: Have you had a chance to explore Edmonton yet? What do you think of the city?
Pelss: Yes, I have and I really enjoy the city.
Many thanks to Kristians for taking the time to do this interview.
For more on Kristians' background and hockey in Latvia, check out the rest of the interview at the Latvian Hockey News Report. For the latest on Latvian Hockey, follow Didzis on Twitter: @DidzisRudmanis