MONTREAL — Fan voting for the NHL All-Star Game is hardly the hot-button item that it is in, say, baseball. But early returns are out and the names at or near the top of the list are what you would expect. Sidney Crosby. P.K. Subban, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Zemgus Girgensons. …
Yep. The Sabres’ 20-year-old center is second overall to Subban and has the most votes of any forward in the league right now for the game, to be be played Jan. 25 in Columbus. And what’s behind this clear voting anomaly? Has to be foreign ballot stuffing from his native Latvia.
“I’ve seen the votes. I’ve seen it. There’s not a lot I have to do with it. It’s not me voting,” Girgensons said today just before leaving the Bell Centre after the Sabres’ optional skate. “It’s the fans back home. We got some crazy hockey fans back home.”
Girgensons has six goals and six assists for the Sabres, and somehow has a plus-6 rating for a team that’s been outscored, 73-39, for the season. His all-star backing is probably premature this year. But not for long. Sabres coach Ted Nolan, who directed Girgensons and the Latvian team in the Sochi Olympics knows his star is joining the likes of current Buffalo goaltending coach Arturs Irbe and longtime NHL defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh as icons from Latvia.
“For a kid who’s 20 years to be doing the things he’s doing now and to show his maturity, the people of Latvia certainly are supportive of their athletes,” Nolan said. “Especially hockey players. They did it with Irbe, with Ozolinsh. Now the next generation, the next kid coming out is Girgensons. I wouldn’t be surprised if the votes are coming from Latvia — but there will be a lot coming from North America very shortly.”