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Latvia set to revive Baltic ice hockey league, Lithuanians and Estonians excited about it

Viesturs Koziols/youtube.com.

The sport of ice hockey in the Baltics is about to get a major boost with the Latvians reviving the idea of a Baltic ice hockey league from the next season. The Baltic League was an ice hockey league that existed for the 2000–2001 season, but did not make it afterwards.

In an interview with a news portal, the general secretary of the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation (LHF) Viesturs Koziols said that it is likely that clubs from Estonia and Lithuania will play in the Latvian Ice Hockey League (LHL) next season.

The head added that it is already clear that the LHL will comprise of six clubs from Latvia, with the possibility of an additional club or two.

According to him, discussions regarding the matter are also ongoing with clubs from both Estonia and Lithuania, and that it is likely that players from the Estonian national team could form a club in Estonia, while the club from Lithuania would come from the town of Elektrėnai, which Energija has been invincible in the local ice hockey league for many years now.

Koziols could not be reached for a comment, but some of the Latvian ice hockey insiders confirmed to BNN that the idea of a Baltic league has gained a firm approval in Latvia and beyond it.

«As far as I know, the Estonians have already expressed will to join Latvia’s supreme ice hockey league. I heard that the participation of Lithuanian clubs is still in question. If Estonians assemble a team for the Latvian championship from their national hockey team, it should be able to be on par with the best clubs of the league,» Elvis Golubovski, general manager of HK Mogo, a Latvian ice hockey club, told BNN.

Seven hockey clubs competed in in the Latvian hockey league in the 2016-2017 season. Mogo finished second.

Approached by BNN, Rauno Parass, president of Estonia’s Ice Hockey Federation, said that it remains to be seen yet whether Estonian hockey clubs or a club formed on the basis of the Estonian national hockey squad will join the Latvian hockey league in the 2017-2018 hockey season.

«It is still an open discussion, but all are certainly excited about the possibility.  As the head of the Estonian ice hockey federation, I want to assure all we are very interested in joining the national Latvian ice-hockey league, which is strong and has a good reputation,» he said.

If the efforts pan out, all eyes would be set on forming a pan-Baltic ice-hockey league with the best Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian hockey clubs playing in it. The region has had it in the past for a single season, during 2000-2001.

«More clarity on the plans is expected soon. In my vision, the Baltic league, depending on the size of each country, should host three clubs from Estonia, five of six clubs from Latvia and three, four or maybe five clubs from Lithuania. If we do not hammer out a joint standing on the expansion for the next hockey season, we will definitely see the Baltic ice hockey league in a year or so,» he emphasised.

Petras Nausėda, president of Lithuania’s Ice Hockey Association (LIHA), the governing body of ice hockey in the country, praised the plans by the new heads of the Latvian ice hockey federation to enhance the Latvian league with the strongest clubs from Lithuania and Estonia and revive the Baltic league eventually.

«Definitely, the goal at the end of day is a single Baltic ice hockey league. It would certainly give a boost to the game regionally,» he said.

As far as the participation of Lithuanian ice hockey clubs in the Latvian league concerned, only Elektrėnai Energija stands the best chance in Latvia, he believes.

«I have no doubts whatsoever that our best club, Energija, would be tantamount to the best Latvian clubs. The participation of Energija in Belarus’ second-tier ice hockey championship has proved the capabilities of our club. Energija has a strong established structure and finances,» the LIHA head noted.«I know that Energija is interested in the opportunity. If the club seeks our approval, it will certainly be granted it,» he added.

According to the LIHA chief, it is important that all the clubs participating in the open Latvian ice hockey league adhere to the same rules.

«As far as I know, much has already been agreed upon among the three states’ hockey governing bodies. Yet some questions as, for example, the compatibility of the schedules of the national championships remain not solved yet,» Nausėda accentuated.

Although some other Lithuanian or Estonian clubs might be weaker than the top Latvian ice hockey squads, the former could patch up their drawbacks with a number of good foreign players in the squad.

«The ice hockey market is teeming with good and excellent legionnaires, who would be interested in signing up with the clubs,» he said.

Speaking of the new Lithuanian ice hockey season, Nausėda informed that six hockey clubs are likely to enrol the new Lithuanian ice hockey championship in the autumn.

«That’s not bad, considering that hockey in popularity is far behind basketball, for example. What we want is that the local municipalities develop ice hockey infrastructure locally. Investments into ice rinks would definitely pay off at the end of the day, as people like amusement on ice both in summer and winter. Among the country’s 60 municipalities, only the largest of them, the Kaunas and Klaipeda municipalities, to be specific, have very ambitious plans to develop ice hockey sport infrastructure,»the LIHA head said. «The rinks in the Akropolis malls also suit well to ice hockey competitions, even for A-tier tournaments.»

According to him, national ice hockey has gotten a «huge uplift» for the game from the national ice hockey prodigies, Darius Kasparaitis and Dainius Zubrus, ex-Lithuanian NHL players. Both are retired now, but promote the game in Lithuania. The former, for example, runs an ice hockey school called by his name in Elektrėnai, the Lithuanian stronghold of the sport.

Energija was not available for a comment for the article.

Speaking to BNN, Valdas Škadauskas, director of Darius Kasparaitis Ice Hockey School,told he believes that the best Lithuanian ice hockey team, Energija, measures up very well against the finest Latvian hockey clubs.

«Their supreme ice hockey league is definitely the strongest in the Baltics, but bear in mind that the best Latvian ice hockey team, Riga Dinamo, plays in KHL, Russia’s supreme ice hockey league. Dinamo does not compete in the Latvian championship, so Lithuania’s Energija would be able to throw down the gauntlet against the other Latvian ice hockey squads,» he said.

«Our junior ice hockey teams, consisting mostly of the sportsmen from our school, have been successfully participating in the Latvian ice hockey championship foryoung players for the last years. Besides, Energija’s junior squad has participated in Belarus’ B-league ice hockey championship,» Škadauskas added.

Eugenijus Mažeika, president of ice hockey club Riteris in Palanga in western Lithuania, also has heard «increased talks» of a Baltic ice hockey league.

«Lithuanian clubs would benefit hugely from it as the level of the Latvian national championship is way higher than that in Lithuania or Estonia. Even Energija, our best ice hockey club, could hardly be competitive with the best Latvian clubs, I reckon,» Mažeika told BNN.


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