Defenseman Oskars Bartulis began the season in the minors, hoping to improve his game and get to The Show.

Not only did he reach the NHL, but he impressed the Flyers' brass so much that he was rewarded with a three-year, $1.8 million contract.

Latvia's coaches took notice of his play, and Bartulis, 23, was selected for his first Olympic team.

"This whole season has been really exciting and full of surprises for me," the 6-foot-2, 184-pound Bartulis said.

Tiny Latvia, which has never finished higher than ninth, is not expected to do much in the Olympics.

"But you never know," Bartulis said. "We will try to surprise some teams."

Latvia stunned the U.S. team in a 3-3 tie in the 2006 Olympics in Turin.

The odds of Latvia winning a medal are again astronomical. Bartulis and Dallas defenseman Karlis Skrastins are the only NHL players on Latvia's Olympic team.

Drafted by the Flyers in the third round (91st overall) in 2005, Bartulis struggled in his first two months in the NHL - he was minus-17 at one point - but has shown marked improvement lately. During one seven-game stretch that started in late January, he was plus-7.

"I like the poise he's shown," general manager Paul Holmgren said.

Bartulis said it took him a while to adjust to the much quicker NHL, "but I'm learning from every game. I feel more comfortable now because I see more ice time and it's given me more confidence."

Getting an Olympic spot didn't hurt that confidence.

"It's been a special year for me so far," he said.