International Ice Hockey Federation

Successful debut in Riga

Successful debut in Riga

Kurbads triumphs on Continental Cup bow

Published 23.10.2017 13:06 GMT+5 | Author Andy Potts
Successful debut in Riga
Kurbads Riga had some of the top players of the tournament (L-R): Scoring leader Martins Cipulis, Best Defenceman Renars Valters and Best Goaltender Uldis Calpa. Photo: Roman Koskarov
Kurbads Riga sprang something of a surprise as it powered through Group B of the Continental Cup in fine style.

Celebrating its tournament debut by hosting the weekend’s games, Kurbads set the tone with a 5-2 victory over Poland’s GKS Tychy then followed up with an 8-1 demolition of Ukrainian champion Donbass Donetsk on Saturday.

That confirmed the Latvians’ progress to the next phase even before Sunday’s match-up with neighbouring Narva PSK of Estonia. That Baltic clash finished 2-1 to Kurbads, who completed the tournament with a 100% record and topped the final table ahead of the Poles.

Prior to the tournament, many in Latvia had identified the game with Tychy as the key clash – and Kurbads delivered a performance that threw down the gauntlet to the rest of the group. After surviving one early scare, when Bartlomiej Jeziorski fired over the top of an open net, the home team impressed. Martins Cipulis opened the scoring in the 16th minute, the first of five unanswered goals that put the game beyond the Poles.

Janis Sprukts, who arrived at the club just a couple of weeks ago, was also among the scorers: the 35-year-old centre tasted Continental Cup action last season with Italy’s Ritten Sport and brings a wealth of World Championship and Olympic experience from his time with the Latvian national team. Tychy grabbed a couple of late consolation goals through Jakub Witecki, but never threatened to change the outcome.

Home goalie Uldis Calpa, who also saved a penalty shot in the third period of that game, admitted that the Continental Cup brought higher stakes and a greater intensity to the action. But he felt his team did a good job of stifling a strong GKS outfit. “We knew that they would start the game well, and at the beginning they were playing at a very high level,” he said in an interview published on Sportacentrs.com. “But we were able to get back into the game and they seemed to fade a little bit. Maybe they are not used to being under pressure, and we knew were the underdogs.”

Next up came Donbass. The Ukrainian champion returned to Continental Cup action last season after the club’s progress was fractured by the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, and was back for another campaign here. But Kurbads was on a roll, and inflicted a heavy defeat on the men from the Donbass region, proving too slick in decision making and execution with some fast-paced hockey in front of the Ukrainian net. Cipulis had two goals and two assists, Martins Lavrovs, much-travelled even at 23 years old, scored twice and Sprukts added three assists.

Their success highlighted the impact of the team’s recent transfer policy, drawn up to build on last season’s Latvian championship win and build a competitive roster for the Continental Cup. In addition to Sprukts’ arrival at the beginning of October, the club announced the arrival of Cipulis recently. The 36-year-old, a veteran of three Olympics and 11 World Championships, added valuable international know-how and finished the tournament as leading scorer with 3+3=6 points from three games.

Along with Sprukts, Lavrovs brought Continental Cup experience from his time with Liepaja and a touch of Trans-Atlantic action with the Florida Eels. Sprukts himself made 14 NHL appearances with the Florida Panthers. Jekabs Redlihs, one of three Redlihs brothers familiar from the upper echelons of Latvian hockey, was another addition to the Kurbads roster ahead of this tournament. The defenceman, who played almost 200 KHL games for Dinamo Riga, is combining his duties as head coach of HK Lido in Latvia’s second tier with action for Kurbads in the country’s top flight.

The experience of Sprukts and Cipulis also played a role in getting Kurbads a win in its final game of the competition. With the group outcome decided, Narva was playing for pride and threatened an upset when it took a first-period lead through Aleksandr Kuznetsov. But Sprukts got an assist on the equalizer from Sandis Zolmanis and Cipulis had a hand in Toms Bluks’ game-winner to ensure the weekend finished with another home victory.

Narva finished without a point from its three games, suffering an 11-0 loss to Tychy along the way. The Poles claimed second place thanks to Sunday’s 4-2 victory over Donbass and, in Michael Cichy, had the group’s leading goalscorer with four.

Kurbads’ success earns the team a place in the third round where it will compete in Group D. The Latvians travel to Denmark, and will face host team Rungsted Ishockey, Yunost Minsk of Belarus, and Great Britain’s Sheffield Steelers in a round-robin contest from 17 to 19 November.

 

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