Does Latvian championship even matter to the federation?
(written by Ivars Zvirgzdiņš and originally published on Sportacentrs.com)
Shortly before the start of the 2012/13 season, Latvian hockey federation has published calendar for the upcoming season of the Latvian league. After a thorough exploration, myself being a mundane Latvian hockey follower, I was struck with dozens of questions and thoughts regarding the current state of Latvian hockey.
The first and most important question is in whose interests was the new calendar created. Much time isn’t needed to find an answer to it – already last year both Prizma Riga and Juniors Riga had problems with starting both in MHL B and Latvian league. Several of Juniors Riga games were rescheduled and there were others problems with Juniors’ participation in the league as well. For example, the federation seemed to not notice Juniors Riga decision of ignoring a few regular season games versus Lithuanian Energija Elektrenai, despite the fact that the club didn’t have MHL B games at that time. In the upcoming season Metalurgs Liepaja-2 will become already the third club that will play in both MHL B and Latvian league.
But let’s return our attention to the calendar of the next season! First of all, this year there will be eight teams participating in the league (there were 10 teams last year). This season SK LSPA/Riga has decided to drop out of the tournament and at this point also Energija Elektrenai isn’t among the competitors of the league.
Only eight teams participating in the tournament is nothing new or tragic, as the league has experienced already several such seasons in the past. The unfortunate part of the story begins, when we count the number of games each team will play – there are going to be a total of 112 regular seasons games, meaning only 28 matches for each of the teams. Also the playoff stage will start only with the semifinals (instead of six teams fighting for the title in the previous years). For a comparison, the newly established Latvian Enthusiast league (an amateur one) each team is planned to have 19 games and playoffs starting from the quarterfinal stage. Continuing our comparison, both EBEL and Belarusian league has more than 50 games in their regular season.
The motivation of decreasing the game pressure on the three teams participating in MHL B is apparent, but immediately another question arises – does the effort of growing our upcoming junior generation in the Russian hockey system leave the other Latvian players, who are already past their junior age, without a chance of playing a proper amount of games during the season? We have plenty of examples of players showing what they are really capable of when they have already reached 25 years or even older. There must be certain circumstances under which such players could develop, and one of them is a chance of playing a decent number of games. Could 28 games per season be considered a decent number or do we once again have to rely on Russia or some other European country on the development of Latvian players?
The number of Latvian hockey talents is far from being rich, thus we have to be able of acknowledging them and offering them a chance of proper development. Still, we also have to point out that a notable proportion of the younger players don’t even wait until they reach 20 years and become useless to the Latvian hockey scene – many players opt to play abroad starting from a very early age. Who can even estimate how many talented players Latvian hockey has lost in such a way?
Returning to the issue of the participation of the Lithuanian team Energija Elektrenai, we must conclude that there is no consensus reached yet, as clearly it is a clash of two different interest groups. Already prior the previous season team’s participation in the league wasn’t clear until the very last minute, and the situation seems to be same now as well. Although Latvian federation hasn’t confirmed Energija’s participation, in Lithuanian press the executive members of the team are telling about team’s intentions of renovating the Elektrenai ice rink and club’s readiness of competing in the Latvian league. It seems that, in the name of the three teams participating in MHL B, Latvian federation is ready to give up our years long cooperation with the Lithuanian team. It is quite odd, as Latvian federation expects a helpful hand from other countries, yet we are not willing to help the development of hockey in other countries.
To sum up, there is only one real conclusion – dear Mr. Lipmans (head of Latvian federation) and the owners of the Latvian teams, perhaps the time has come to cease imitating activity and start working on the development of the league? A development, whose aim would be clear to the Latvian hockey fans and most likely to the Latvian hockey federation as well.