RIGA – The Latvian Hockey Federation celebrated the 80-year anniversary of ice hockey in its country at Arena Riga.
The festivities took place on Sunday, 4th December, at the venue that was built for the 2006 IIHF World Championship.
The Latvian Hockey Federation first joined the IIHF in the pre-Soviet era in 1931 and took part in five IIHF World Championships and the 1936 Olympic Winter Games before World War II.
The Latvians never lost their passion for the sport and continued to produce great players like Helmuts Balderis during the Soviet era. Dinamo Riga was among the best teams in the Soviet league outside of Moscow. Its best result came in 1988 when Riga lost the Soviet championship in the final series against CSKA Moscow, 3-1.
The 1988 roster already included several players who would later become stars on the national team after Latvia restored independence in 1991 like Arturs Irbe, Olegs Znaroks, the late Sergejs Zoltoks and some years later Sandis Ozolins.
The Balderis-coached national team had to start on the bottom of the World Championship system in 1993 and made its way up within four years. The Baltic nation of 2.2 million inhabitants first time appeared in the top pool of the IIHF World Championship in 1997 and participated in two Olympic Winter Games (2002, 2006).
Since 1997 Latvia has never been relegated and the thousands of Latvian fans travelling to the annual event have become kind of a trademark for the event.
There was much to remember about all the eras of Latvian hockey and it was done with the opening of the Latvian Ice Hockey History Museum at Arena Riga.
The museum’s opening was followed by a Legends Game between former stars from Latvia and Russia.
Helmuts Balderis and Andrejs Ignatovics both scored a hat trick in the 10-9 victory for the Latvians. Normunds Sejejs, Juris Reps, Viktors Ignatjevs un Leonids Tambijevs scored the other goals before fans could get autographs and take pictures with the legends that included the likes of Valeri Kamenski, Andrei Kovalenko (both scored a hat trick as well) and Alexander Yakushev on the Russian side.
After the game Latvia’s lifelong team doctor Janis Kveps presented his autobiographical book „Es atradu sevi hokejā” („I found myself in hockey”). Kveps was on hand to sign more than 200 books.
The Latvian Hockey Federation also honoured several former players, coaches and officials for their contribution towards Latvian ice hockey: Elmars Bauris, Edgars Rozenbergs, Uldis Opits, Gunars Krastins, Janis Kupcs, Kirovs Lipmans, Janis Kveps, Evalds Grabovskis, Juris Reps, Helmuts Balderis, Leonids Beresnevs, Olegs Znaroks, Arturs Irbe, Sandis Ozolins, Viktor Tikhonov, Vladimir Yurzinov, Alexander Steblin, Visvaldis Nagobads, Vladimir Tretyak.