International Ice Hockey Federation

Turning silver into gold

Turning silver into gold

Second straight Latvian title for Kurbads

Published 01.10.2018 17:05 GMT+5 | Author Joeri Loonen
Turning silver into gold
The Kurbads Riga players celebrate their title defence in the Latvian league OHL. Photo: Romans Koksarovs
One season after hoisting its first ever Latvian league title, Kurbads Riga repeats a strong playoff performance to make it two championships in a row.

Having dealt with the stigma of being eternal runners-up, fuelled by three consecutive silver medals between 2014-2016, the team showed last year’s title was no fluke as the team captured its second gold medal in as many years. In the best-of-seven Latvian OHL final series, the reigning champions proved too strong for Zemgale from Jelgava, who were swept aside in four straight games. 

An already powerful offence was boosted by the outstanding performances of goaltender Uldis Calpa, who posted a goals against average of 0.97 and carried a save percentage of 96.2% in the final series. It was not surprising that the goaltender was awarded the Playoff MVP award after the series had concluded. 

“Uldza showed what type of quality netminder he is. Saving his best performance for when it mattered most,” coach Aleksandrs Macijevskis said about Calpa, who registered a 24-save shutout in a 1-0 Game 4 win that clinched the title. 

Kurbads headed into game 4 in Jelgava with a comfortable 3-0 series lead. The home team took the initiative early on but were unable to crack a solid Kurbads defence. On those occasions where Zemgale did find a breakthrough, Calpa denied them from scoring. 

“We deserved to score one or two goals to extend the series,” felt Zemgale coach Valerijs Kulibaba. “We played a very strong team though, perhaps made up out of the best players in the country.” 

With Zemgale unable to find the net, it was inevitable Kurbads would at some point in the game. 

Less than two minutes into the second period Gatis Gricinkis connected on a nice pass from behind the net to one-time behind Reinus Petkus in the Zemgale net. It proved to the goal that earned Kurbads the league title. 

Despite the 4-0 series sweep, the series was closer than it might look. Zemgale entered the playoffs as the lowest seeded team and became a surprise finalist after eliminating regular-season winner Mogo Riga in the semi-finals. The team looked red hot and ready to surprise again in the first game of the final series. 

Twice Kurbads took the lead but on as many occasions Zemgale equalized. Eventually an overtime goal by Martins Gipters after 70 minutes settled the first game of the series. 

Game two of the series saw a third-period double from veteran forward Toms Hartmanis made the difference in a 4-1 victory. 

Boosted by a two home wins at their new arena in the south of Riga, Kurbads travelled to Jelgava full of confidence. There was no doubt as to who was the strongest team in game three as Kurbads walked out of the Jelgava ice rink with a 6-1 victory. 

The repeat Latvian title means Kurbads is also qualified for its second encounter of Continental Cup hockey. Earlier this season, the team qualified for the third round in which they finished behind Yunost Minsk and Sheffield Steelers, just missing out the final tournament. 

“This is the first time HK Kurbads plays in the Continental Cup and it is probably the biggest club competition we as a Latvian team can take part in, so we are getting seriously ready for this tournament and it means a lot to us,” said Kurbads Riga’s Janis Straupe ahead of this years’ event. 

Next season another opportunity will present itself and Macijevskis acknowledges the value of this tournament and the international experience it provides the players with. 

Macijevskis: “There are six teams in the Latvia championship, so it is difficult to stay focused all season long playing the same opponents. To have played international hockey in the Continental Cup gave us a great advantage. It added to our experience and also boosted our confidence coming away with four wins in six games.” 

It’s a sports cliche that retaining a title is more difficult than to win one. With both now achieved, Kurbads can turn to a new goal. Make it a treble and start a dynasty.


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