By Alexandra Evans
SAN JOSE—Would you believe that Rudolfs Balcers, who is remarkably slick and speedy on the ice, once hated hockey? This answer camer as a shocker.
A first-generation hockey player (on both sides of his family), the 20 year-old Liepaja, Latvia native commenced his career at age 3 ½. It was at this age that Balcers, whose then-teammates were older, dreaded lacing up his skates and stepping on the ice.
“If I didn’t see my mom or dad in the stands, I would cry,” Balcers shared. Thankfully, it was only a few days later that he acclimated to the hockey surroundings and began picking things up.
Balcers went on to play in Norway for the Stavanger Oilers, where he was the youngest player. In 38 career games with the team, he put up 22 points (eight goals and 14 assists) and a plus-15 rating, and also helped lead them to a championship win two years in a row.
The 5 foot 11 inch, 175 pound left winger kicked things into overdrive when he joined the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL in 2016-17. In a single season, he appeared in 66 games and put up 77 points (37 goals and 40 assists) and a plus-26 rating.
The speedy and well-coordinated (in regards to hand-eye movement) Balcers was drafted 142nd overall in 2015 by San Jose, the fourth Latvian player in history to be selected by the franchise, one of whom, Karlis Custke, was selected 130th overall the same year. Balcers signed an entry-level deal with the Sharks in July.
Balcers wasn’t an avid supporter of any single hockey team growing up, though he followed the Sharks as, when he was growing up, the first two Latvian players to be drafted by San Jose’s franchise were active on the ice (Sandis Ozolinsh was drafted in 1991, Victor Ignatje in 1992).
“Being here [in San Jose] and representing Latvia is a big deal,” Balcers responded when I asked him what it means to be a member of San Jose’s franchise. He spent a majority of the preseason training with the Sharks players, which seemed to have benefitted him.
“That was a fun time, getting to see what they do. I learned some stuff, got sent down here [to the Barracuda]. My goal was to make the team here, just try to do my best to stay with the Barracuda, and show them that I can play,” Balcers remarked.
Off the ice, Balcers has enjoyed exploring the South Bay and San Francisco, while relishing the idyllic, snow-free California weather.