According to a report by TVNet in Latvia, the Winnipeg Jets have signed Latvian defenceman Ralfs Freibergs to an American Hockey League contract.
The undrafted Freibergs, 23, who spent the past five years playing in the United States — the last two at Bowling Green State University — has familiarity with the Jets as he attended the NHL team’s most recent summer development camp.
His contract would have him suiting up with the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps this coming season, although Freibergs was quoted in the story as saying the deal also has an ECHL component.
A five-foot-11, 195-pound rearguard, Freibergs had 22 points, including three goals, with the Bowling Green Falcons last season.
Known as an adept puck-mover, he was part of the Falcons’ top power-play unit.
This was Freibergs’ first full season at Bowling Green as he was limited to just eight games in 2012-13 as he served a suspension for having played professionally in Latvia as a teenager.
There was also a question about whether Freibergs would be able to play for the Falcons this season, something he acknowledged in the TVNet story. That’s because he has been provisionally suspended by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) after testing for a banned substance while playing for Latvia at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
In late April, Freibergs was retroactively kicked out of the Olympic Games and subsequently suspended by the IIHF, a suspension that prevented him from competing for Latvia in the world championship this spring. A final call by the IIHF on his case was expected in September, but Freibergs said the uncertainty of what that decision could mean regarding his NCAA eligibility helped make up his mind about turning pro.
Freibergs reportedly told Bowling Green that the positive tests from Sochi showed the presence of the anabolic steroid turinabol (dehydrochloromethyl testosterone), but he disputes the results and has questioned the methodology used to obtain them. There is also a report that Bowling Green later hired a labratory to conduct a screening of a sample from Freibergs and that the lab reported it found no traces of the drug in question.
Freibergs played three years of junior A hockey in the U.S. before attending Bowling Green. He also competed at the 2013 world championship for Latvia and in the 2009 and 2010 world junior championships for his native country.
His participation in the latter two events actually led to his NCAA suspension in 2012 because the Latvian world junior team played in a professional league as part of its preparation for the 2009 and 2010 championships. Those were the games that were cited in Freibergs’ NCAA penance.