International Ice Hockey Federation

Kicking the habit

Kicking the habit

HK Kurbads hoists first Latvian league title

Published 15.08.2018 10:24 GMT+5 | Author Henrik Manninen
Kicking the habit
The Kurbads players celebrate with the trophy after winning the Latvian final first time in the fourth attempt. Photo: HK Kurbads
Seemingly cursed for life as second best, HK Kurbads clicked into gear when it mattered the most to win their first Latvian championship trophy.

Losing out in three consecutive Latvian championship playoff finals series between 2014 to 2016, perennial silver medallists HK Kurbads looked destined to once again head down that same well-trodden path of disappointment in 2017. 

Trailing 0-3 in games in the best-of-seven final series against Mogo Riga, this crop of HK Kurbads players proved however to be made of much sterner stuff that their predecessors as they staged a remarkable fightback to claim four straight victories to prevail 4-3 in the championship series. 

The decisive game completing the turnaround saw HK Kurbads win 2-1 on the road on with head coach Peteris Ostosovs relying on three veterans leading the way to glory. A disciplined defensive display saw Martins Raitums being in inspiring form between the pipes, while team captain and blueliner Toms Bluks lead by example to fire his team in front on power play before the winner was scored by Edgars Brancis. HK Kurbads' Toms Hartmanis also stood out and received the Most Valuable Player award. 

Based in the town of Ogre, home of 30,000 and 36 kilometres east of the capital Riga, HK Kurbads finished second in the standings behind Mogo Riga during the regular season in the seven-team strong Virsliga. En route to winning gold, they first eliminated HK Zemgale/LLU 3-2 in matches during a tricky semi-final series before Mogo Riga awaited in the finals. 

Led by inspirational top marksman Elvis Zelubovskis, Mogo Riga raced clear to edge HK Kurbads during the first three close fought encounters (3-1, 3-2, 3-2) and seemed to be cruising towards their second championship in three years. 

By the time game four came around HK Kurbads looked destined to once again wilt under pressure. In front of their home supporters and with the game locked at 1-1, HK Kurbads got themselves into double trouble. A Koba Jass misconduct penalty at 22:15 was followed by boarding call on Aleksandrs Galkins 25:13. Mogo Riga went going for the killer blow but hanging on by the skin of its teeth, HK Kurbads weathered the storm before stepping up a gear to hit four answered goals in around nine minutes before the second frame came to a close. Steaming ahead to win game four 7-4 following a sudden goal explosion shifted the momentum into HK Kurbads favour which they never relinquished. 

They won game number 4-3 on the road, followed it up by a 4-1 win in front of their home fans and when crunch time came calling during the decisive seventh game, HK Kurbads powered ahead with the goal sealing the historical win arriving with 2:54 left of the game and scored by 31-year-old Brancis, who had returned to his native Latvia after starting the season in the MOL League with SC Csikszereda. 

With Continental Cup hockey now awaiting HK Kurbads, its inaugural championship trophy comes at a time as changes loom around the corner for the club formed in 1996. A new ice arena set to be inaugurated during the close season will see HK Kurbads move into their new facilities further up the Daugava river in the Latgale suburb of Riga, as a new exciting chapter is set to start in the club's history as reigning Latvian champions and the team to beat. 


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