JARED: It’s 2015. The Buffalo Sabres are at the bottom of the league (not much has changed since then, huh?) and yet the most voted-for player for that year’s NHL All Star Game, with 1,574,896 votes, was none other than the Sabres’ Latvian center Zemgus Girgensons.
The runner-up, Chicago Blackhawks superstar Patrick Kane, received 1,232,201 votes, which was nearly 350,000 votes short of the leader. Girgensons didn’t even crack the league’s top 100 point scorers list when he was voted in. So how did he get in? It turned out that droves of Latvian fans voted the meek 21-year-old Sabre in, considering he is one of the very few from his country to play in the NHL.
A Latvian rap duo called OLAS even made a song and accompanying music video about him in 2015, which has nearly two million views to date.
Girgensons was amongst the few bright spots on the Sabres from their dark years of 2013 to 2015. Drafted in 2012 as the 14th overall pick, he was fourth on the Sabres in points during their dreadful 2014-15 season, with 15 goals and 15 assists in 61 games. His highlight reel is not long, but impressive nonetheless. He’s still playing for Buffalo, yet he’s not the unconventional superstar he used to be. He’s typically centering for the third or fourth forward lines as a gritty but reliable forward.
Regardless of how he’s performing, I still consider him one of my all-time favorite hockey players. His name was also just so fun to say. Zemgus Girgensons. When Sabres announcer Rick Jeanneret called out his name after he scored a goal, my ears perked up in delight.
In fact, I even asked for his number 28 jersey for Christmas years ago, which I still own to this day.
EMILY: My favorite retired (non super-star) athlete is Jermichael Finley. Remember the name? You might not, even if you are a huge fan of football. Finley was drafted in 2008, and was picked in the third round by the Green Bay Packers. He was active from the years 2008-2013.
Finley didn’t become my favorite non-star player until years after he retired, so how did I discover him? I was actually gifted his jersey from my uncle (my dog’s name is Finley, you see) but it prompted me to do extensive research on what Jermichael Finley was like and what kind of a player he was. Here’s what I found and why I like him so much.
Finley was what I call a gentle giant. He was 6’5” and 247 pounds, but I can’t imagine him hurting a fly (deliberately at least). Any interview of his that I’ve watched or read, I saw that he was a quiet, humble and simple man.
And he was good too, so I respect him for not letting it all get to his head. In 2010, Finley set a Packers franchise record in a playoff game, catching six passes for 159 yards. This was only recently broken by Davante Adams in 2019.
Finley also had a strong 2011 season which was key to the Packer’s resigning him after he became a free agent.
I believe Finley had potential to become one of the greats if he hadn’t suffered a spinal cord injury which temporarily parayzlied his legs. The injury put a giant halt to his career and he retired in 2013. It’s a shame when a great player has to retire early due to injury, but Finley is the same Finley now as he was back when he was playing football: living a quiet, humble and simple life.
He lives in the town of Aledo with his wife and kids and helps coach. He also mediates daily.