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Ice Hockey

Up to date as of February 02, 2010
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An Ice Hockey Wiki article.

Flag and abbrev. Flag of Latvia LAT
Continent Europe
Leader Valdis Zatlers
Population 2,245,423 (as of 2008)
Registered players 4,463
Percentage 0,20%
National team Latvian National Team
National federation Latvian Ice Hockey Federation
IIHF ranking 11th (-1)
Top league Premjerlīga
Current champion HK Liepajas Metalurgs

Latvia is a baltic European country, bordered by Estonia, Lithuania, Belarus and Russia. There are 2.3 million people living in Latvia, which capital is Riga.



History of hockey in Latvia

Latvia's flag

If February 15th 1909 is considered by many as the date where the first ever ice hockey game was played in Latvia (Union vs. Strēlnieka Dārzs), hockey as we know it nowadays, then nicknamed "Canadian hockey", only began in the 1930's. There were no leagues at the time in the country: the teams rather played in short tournaments.

With the Latvian Winter Sports Federation beginning to fully support ice hockey in 1930, the country was admitted within the IIHF ranks in 1931. They took part in the 1932 European Championship; the next year, they made it to the 1933 World Championship in Prague.

Prior to 1970, year of the construction of the Rīga Sports Palace, no indoor rink existed in Latvia, meaning that all games were played outside on frozen ponds or on flooded outdoor surfaces, making the game extremely dependent on the temperature.

During World War II, hockey in Latvia survived, against all odds. If the Soviets disbanded all of the existing teams to replace them with new ones (including the Dinamo Riga), the older clubs were resurected with the arrival of the Germans in the country.

In the late 1940's, the Dinamo joined the Soviet League and did very well, it's star pre-war players accomplishing very nice things and kept the team in the top tier for a decade. Harijs Mellups was 1948's best goaltender in the whole Soviet Union; he made the Soviet National Team that year. Other skilled Latvians of the pre-war era carried on playing in Germany; Augsburg became famous from 1946 to 1949 for having up to eight Latvians on its roster, earning it the "Letten Mannschaft" nickname. Of the Latvians to play in West Germany, the most notable is Rūdolfs Veide, who had a long and successful career as player and coach there, even played on the West German National Team in 1953-54; his son Ēriks Veide did the same 20 years later.

Latvian hockey however struggled in the 50's and 60's, with the Dynamo stuck in the second tier of the Soviet League. Thankfully, a pair of legends in the making arrived during the late 60's to save the day: they were coach Viktor Tikhonov and forward Helmuts Balderis.

Tikhonov's discipline and Balderis' offensive skills helped the Dinamo reach back the top tier for the 1973-74 Soviet League season and re-establish itself as a solid Soviet League team until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's. Both Balderis and Tikhonov transfered to the CSKA Moscow club in 1977, but the relationship between both was pretty tense, as Balderis often rebelled against Tikhonov's very authoritarian and abusive, although revolutionary, methods, a rebellion that costed Helmuts spots on the Soviet National Team at various major occasions, including the 1976 Canada Cup, the 1980 Olympics and five World Championships. Later, at the age of 37, Balderis became the first Latvian to be drafted to the National Hockey League and the first Latvia-native to play there, with the Minnesota North Stars, after having spent 3 seasons coaching in Japan.

With Belderis on his last miles on the ice, a new Latvian player emerged in the late 1980's: Artūrs Irbe. Promoted to the main Dinamo Riga squad as a promising goaltender, he was silver medalist of the Soviet League with the Dinamo in 1987-88 and the next season, he was on the Soviet National Team. Already a hero among his fellows, Irbe gained even more love and respect from his people by manning the barricades in Riga in the winter of 1990-91 as, during the USSR's fall, Latvia was pushing very hard to gain its independence. That patriotic act had him banned from the Soviet and CIS national teams, but as soon as Latvia's independence was acknowledged and that the country formed its national team, Irbe was a key element, having by then established himself as a solid NHLer. Sandis Ozoliņš soon followed him to North America, as well as Sergejs Žoltoks and Grigorijs Panteļejevs.

Meanwhile, Latvian hockey had very hard times during the first years of the country's independence, as funding vanished and the best players looked for any opportunity to go play abroad. Teams folded and ice rinks closed; for the most part of the 1990's, the old Riga Sports Palace was the lone arena of the country. The country's national team, however, played with all its heart and was very successful, reaching the top tier of the World Championships in 1997 and surprising everyone by finishing seventh.

Those successes marked the rebirth of Latvian hockey; as of 2006, 15 ice rinks exist in the country and teams like Rīga 2000 and Liepājas Metalurgs turned professional.


Some great Latvian players


Notable North American players of Latvian descent

  • Harolds Šnepsts
  • Juris Kudrašovs
  • Āris Brīmanis
  • Jarrod Skalde

See also

Template:Ice hockey in Latvia

Sources and references

  • Latvia's hockey history spans a century by Viesturs Zariņš

This article uses material from the "Latvia" article on the Ice Hockey wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.


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