Year 1931 was very important for ice hockey in Latvia. In February 22, 1931 Latvia became the 19th member of International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and the first official ice hockey championship was played in 1931. The first ever played Latvian hockey league final game was in March 1, 1931 where Unions Rīga played against Liepāja ASK. Unions Rīga won Liepāja ASK with 1:0 in overtime and team Unions Rīga was crowned as first Latvian ice hockey champions. It has been 85 years since Latvia became IIHF member and first Latvian hockey champion was crowned, to celebrate these important events the 2015-16 hockey season in Latvia was announced as 80th anniversary hockey season.
Latvian hockey league 2015-16
Latvian hockey championship 2015-16 preseason was like any other, total number of participants was unknown till the start of regular season. Season started seven teams, HK Liepāja, HK Kurbads, HK MOGO, HK Zemgale / LLU, HK Prizma, HS Rīga, HASC Tukums and the regular season length would be 30 games. After sixth game played HASC Tukums withdrew from championship due to money issues. I can't name the previous similar case, but this wasn't the first time. To allow this kind of extreme in so called 80th anniversary season isn't the best way to celebrate and it's impossible to improve Latvian hockey league low reputation in this kind of way. HASC Tukums was replaced with HS Rīga 99. Despite two junior hockey teams in the lower end of table this season was interesting because remaining five teams could win each other and there wasn't one clear leader.
Latvian hockey league season 2015-16 regular season table
2] A little team comparison for you to get know who is who.
Regular season winners HK Liepāja and second place ranked team HK MOGO automatically qualified for playoff semifinals and teams ranked from 3rd till 6th played quarterfinal rounds. In first pair HK Kurbads played against HS Rīga, series ended without any surprises HK Kurbads won 3:0 (7:2; 10:3; 11:2). In second quarterfinal pair met HK Zemgale / LLU and HK Prizma which won HK Zemgale / LLU with 3:1 (3:2; 2:1; 2:3; 4:3).
HK Prizma in semifinals had to play against HK Liepāja and this series ended without surprises HK Liepāja won 3:1 (7:5; 7:1; 3:5; 4:1) and waited for their opponent in finals. Semifinal second pair looked more interesting where HK Kurbads and HK MOGO had to replay previous season final series and this season Latvian cup finals where HK MOGO won both, but HK Kurbads wanted to pay them back and they did, HK Kurbads won semifinal series with 3:1 (1:5; 7:4; 3:2; 4:1).
Highlights from all games in semifinal series between HK Kurbads and HK MOGO
Despite the fact that HK Liepāja won the regular season they wasn't recognized as the cup contenders, but the victory in regular season guaranteed more handy opponents in the semifinals which they used this opportunity well.
HK Kurbads has played from quarterfinals and they beat tough HK MOGO to qualify for finals. On paper HK Kurbads had more experienced players than HK Liepāja, but to guess the winners before the final series was impossible.
The final series between HK Kurbads and HK Liepāja was a great hockey drama which ended with HK Liepāja victory in the first seven game final series in Latvian hockey league history with 4:3 (3:5; 3:2; 4:2; 6:4; 1:5; 2:5; 4:3). HK Kurbads won the first game, but HK Liepāja next three games gaining 3:1 lead in series and for HK Kurbads it looked hopeless but in the fifth and sixth game HK Kurbads outplayed HK Liepāja in all game aspects and tied the series 3:3. The seventh and last game in the final series was as dramatic as the whole series.
HK Liepāja scored fast goal after 1:27 played, despite the fact that in all previous games HK Kurbads scored first. The second goal was after 9 minutes and HK Kurbads head coach Pēteris Ostošovs replaced goalie Uldis Čalpa with inexperienced Guntars Reiss who looked just terrible and made foolish mistakes one after another and when only 8 seconds left in first period he allowed third goal and you just could give the cup to HK Liepāja already. In the start of second period replaced Uldis Čalpa returned to game and HK Kurbads started to play hockey and HK kurbads scored two goals in second period and hope wasn't gone at all. HK Kurbads had nothing to lose and they pushed only forward and it payed back, Toms Hartmanis scored game tying goal in the last minute and I couldn't believe to this comeback that HK Kurbads has done. But the pleasure didn't last for too long, Bruno Zabis scored in empty net after marvelous pass from Egīls Kalns after just 2:49 played in overtime, and HK Liepāja became champions.
Highlights from all games in final series between HK Kurbads and HK Liepāja
HK Kurbads has played in three playoff finals in three straight seasons. Unfortunately HK Kurbads hasn't won any titles yet. I would call this - silver curse of Ogre. Since Latvian hockey league 1991-92 season in playoff finals has played four with Ogre associated teams and any of them have won the champion title:
This is how looks the medal count for a city in Latvian hockey league since season 1991-92:
Latvian hockey league playoff tree, season 2015-16
Latvian hockey cup
I couldn't find any information when was the last time Latvian hockey cup was played, but I hope that this will become a new tradition. In Latvian hockey cup played 13 teams, 7 from Latvian hockey league and 6 from Latvian hockey league 1. The first game was played in September 23, and final game were played in February 4 in largest hockey rink in Latvia - Arēna Rīga where met previous season finalists HK MOGO and HK Kurbads.
Latvian hockey league All-Star game
For anniversary purpose there was played a Latvian hockey league All-Star game. It was organized by all accepted All-Star standards, in the fan vote won unknown Kristaps Namiķis (10 GP, 0+3) from HK Zemgale, between the periods there was a hockey skill contests and notable is hardest shot from Dmitrijs Korņilovs which flew with 112 hm/h not bad for semiprofesional. The team captains were Latvian hockey legend Rodrigo Laviņš from HK Kurbads and Oļegs Sorokins from HK MOGO. The game ended with a friendly 7:7 tie.
It's not the end
The playoffs in Latvian hockey league 1 started only yesterday (April 13) but the lack of team promotion and relegation the league to Latvian hockey league makes this league dry as dusts, but it's good how it is and I hope that we'll await a real two level Latvian hockey championship soon.
Latvian hockey league 1 cup contenders are HK Liepāja Juniors (64P), Daugavpils / LDZ Cargo (57P), Prizma / Pārdaugava (41P), HK Tukums / Stiga RM (30P). I wouldn't be surprised that HK Liepāja Juniors would win but this time I'm hoping for Daugavpils victory and maybe returning in next season into Latvian hockey leagu.
Trade cards with me