Last year was special in all areas. The Covid-19 pandemic also had a major impact on the hockey community’s plans, but at the end of the year, it seemed that everything was not so bad, because a lot of interesting things happened in local hockey. “Sportazinas.com” offers to look back at the brightest events of 2020 in Latvian hockey.
Kurbads leaves the Optibet hockey league not without scandal
The coronavirus denied the opportunity to finish in national championships throughout Europe, and Latvia was no exception. On March 12, an emergency situation was declared in the country, but the last game between “Olimp” and the hockey school “Rīga” did not take place in the OHL main tournament, because, following the restrictions set by the Riga City Council, young Rigans did not show up. Initially, Olimp awarded the technical victory and this unit, together with Kurbada, had 56 points, but the league’s debutant took first place in terms of additional performance.
Representatives of “Kurbada” protested against this decision and the Disciplinary Commission of the Latvian Hockey Federation (LHF) also took part in the case. The stakes were high, because after the cancellation of the play-off matches, the first place winner was given not only the cup for the victory in the OHL first stage, but also the right to represent Latvia in the Continental Cup organized by the International Hockey Federation (IIHF). ).
Immediately after the LHF’s first place decision Olympians, Kurbads announced his departure from the OHL. “It’s time to take a breath, understand the priorities and wait for the new revolution – either in itself or in the system as a whole,” wrote Andis Pikāns, the owner of the club. “I have climbed a high mountain for seven seasons and twice I have reached the top. I will never forget this sight and feeling and I know that I will want to return there someday. ”
“Kurbads definitely does not disappear from hockey – on the contrary. It is time to focus all our energy on the new generation, because they need it right now and they will give it back to hockey, ”Pikāns emphasized the further emphasis on the students of his sports school. “They are clean and their eyes are shining. I know it because I see it every day. My real comrades will also stay by my side and teach the young people the values that Kurbads himself has taught us. ”
Pican later revealed that the organization he led had a different understanding of values with the LHF, noting that another reason lay in the financial crisis. One of the strongest teams with six finals and two championship titles left the Latvian championship.
Girgenson and Merzlikkin sign new contracts with NHL clubs
Elvis Merzlikkin’s debut in the NHL team Columbus “Blue Jackets” was not successful – seven goals were scored against the Pittsburgh “Penguins” represented by Theodore Bluger. Also in the continuation of the season, the Latvian did not look as convincing as we are used to seeing him in the Swiss “Lugano” and Latvian national teams. Elvis continued to work hard and at some point was ready to return to Switzerland, but everything was changed by the injury of the team’s goalkeeper Jonas Korpisalo – in the event of Merzlikin entering the goal, the team finally won, the Latvian regained confidence and there was no doubt about their compliance in the NHL.
Together in his first season in the strongest league in the world, Merzlikkin played in 33 main tournament matches, in which he defeated 92.3% of the throws and conceded 2.35 discs on average. Five dry games in Merzlikkin’s account. With the Latvian in the goal, “Blue Jackets” had 13 successes, qualifying for the elimination tournament. During the break in Covid-19, Merzlikkin wasted no time signing a two-year contract for eight million dollars. “Now Merzlikin needs to be able to move to the next level,” commented Columbia’s GM Jarmo Kekalainen.
Buffalo Sabers striker Zemgus Girgensons also signed a new contract, who for the first time since 2014/2015. The 2006 season scored more than ten goals – 12, accumulating a total of 19 performance points – the best result in five years. The Latvian agreed on three years of cooperation and 2.2 million each season, which is almost half as much as he earned before. “I don’t know why they signed Zemga, who could be peacefully replaced,” said John Wall, a reviewer for The Athletic. For Girgenson, this will be the eighth season of the NHL.
Dynamo (failed) restart
2020/2021 The Riga Dinamo Championship was welcomed not only with optimism, but also with a change of visual identity. The logo of the team changed, the shape became more modern. “The idea came from the team. We created a working group that worked on it for more than a year – both ours and foreigners were invited – this is the result, ”said the chairman of the club council Juris Savickis.
– KHL (@khl_eng) July 21, 2020
The changes affect not only the players’ shirts, but also the structure of the club – Pēteris Skudra was appointed the head coach and general manager, and soon the team started signing the players. “For me, this is not just my next job,” said an ambitious specialist. “During the day I meet with Latvian players, which is a priority, and I also work with Europeans, but at night I work with North Americans. I work about 20 hours a day, ”the coach outlined everyday, who revealed the goal – to reach the“ play-off ”.
In words, everything sounded beautiful, but in reality everything turned out much harsher. Due to the forced quarantine of Covid-19, the problems of the goalkeepers, the rotation of players typical of Ant and the sudden change of course in the middle of the season, Dinamo is waiting for 2021 where we have been used to seeing it in recent years – in the last position at the Western Conference. Six wins in 39 matches, a deficit of 35 points to the play-off zone – it seems that even if this season there would be no ban on spectators watching the matches in “Arena Riga” in person, the Latvian club would also set an anti-attendance record.
The team wins the German Cup and returns hope
It came to that coronas ērā The Latvian national team became one of the few national units that had the opportunity to try their hand at international competitions – the German Cup. This tournament became the first national team break in February, in which teams played instead of clubs. Although some journalists criticized the LHF for putting Covid-19 at risk during its distribution, the hockey players themselves were happy to put on a form with the inscription on the coats of arms of Latvia’s regions again.
In November, the Deutchland Cup team, led by Artis Abols and formed by the “unemployed” and OHL hockey players, started with a victory over the German U23 national team – 4: 2, followed by a failure against the German adult national team – 0: 2. Such a balance allowed the team to enter the final, where Latvia revenge on the home team – 3: 2 extra time, which meant victory in the entire tournament and won the cup. “The federation was looking to help hockey players without playing practice, as this goal has definitely been achieved. The second – only two games were guaranteed, but the task was to play three matches. Of course, in the end, an additional bonus, the German national team won and the cup won, ”commented Ābols.
Playing in the national team ranks helped some hockey players regain confidence and finally find a job. The German Cup was important not only for the hockey players, but also for the fans – thus giving them hope that the usual order of world hockey will gradually return. In December, two more tournaments were planned for Latvia – one in Poland and the other in Switzerland. Both were canceled, but the national team has definitely gained a lot from one tournament.
Speculation about the 2021 World Cup
In May 2017, Latvia received the right to host the 2021 World Championship. True, not alone, but together with Belarus, all the more so – the semi-finals and the final had to take place right in the neighboring country. The work of the representatives of both countries started immediately in order to organize the tournament as well as possible. Although the 2020 World Cup was canceled, the next tournament was no longer threatened, it was clear that it would happen, with or without spectators. The tournament was influenced by something else – the presidential election in Belarus.
Alexander Lukashenko received about 80% of the vote, the opposition said the results were falsified, and protests have been taking place in the country since August, with police using force against people. Professional athletes who have the courage to speak out against Lukashenko are also not to be regretted. Over time, the authorities’ methods became increasingly cruel, attracting the attention of human rights organizations and, later, the European Parliament.
Initially, the rhetoric of the LHF was that the tournament is not organized together with Belarus, but in cooperation with the IIHF, with which Latvia has an agreement to hold one group tournament and two quarter finals. Later, it became increasingly difficult for the Latvian side to pretend that nothing was happening in the neighboring country. The pressure increased, Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš said that Latvia was not ready to organize a tournament together with the other half, while the incident with Belarusian hockey leader Dmitry Baskov, who according to Belarusian media was present in an incident in which one of the opposition activists lost his life, changed his position of the LHF as well.
IIHF President René Fezel does not tire of repeating that he will try to make sure that the tournament takes place in the intended places. However, the Swiss media reports that the fate of the tournament has already been decided and in the near future Fezel will go to Minsk to personally announce Lukashenko’s deprivation of the championship for Belarus. The IIHF has promised the LHF a response by 11 January.
In any case, there is one question where the matches of the second group will take place. There is no second arena in Latvia, so there are two options – Belarusian matches are transferred to another country, or in Latvia one of the small arenas is adapted to the needs of the World Cup.