We first announced this almost a year ago – world-class ice hockey is coming to Kaunas! It’s still very real and closer than ever – on April 22nd – 28th, 2018 IIHF World Ice Hockey Championship, presenting the national teams of Lithuania, Ukraine, Japan, Croatia, Estonia and Romania will be held in the most significant sports venue in the Baltic states, Žalgirio arena.
This will be the Group B tournament of the championship Division I and Group A will tournament will be held in Budapest, Hungary.
Žalgirio arena can fit as many as 13,5 thousand ice hockey fans, which is approximately 2000 people less than in a basketball game. It will be the first time for the largest arena in the Baltic countries to host ice hockey competitions.
The Lithuanian national team is already nicknamed ‘dream team’ as both Darius Kasparaitis and Dainius Zubrus, the best Lithuanian ice hockey players of all time will play for their homeland, and Kasparaitis will do it for the first time in his life.
The 45-year old Kasparaitis left Lithuania for Russia when he was still a teenager and started his professional career in Dinamo Moscow. He later played in the NHL and represented New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, Colorado Avalanche and New York Rangers before moving back across the Atlantic and playing in KHL.
Zubrus, who’s now 39, was the first Lithuanian to have played 1,000 games in the NHL and represented Philadelphia Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks.
Both Kasparaitis and Zubrus were born in Elektrėnai, the Lithuanian ice hockey capital. The town is located midway between Kaunas and Vilnius. Energija Elektrėnai has won the Lithuanian ice hockey championship ever since its first year. 2018 was no exception – Kaunas Hockey lost the final series in Elektrėnai and brought home their first silver medals. Captain of Kaunas Hockey, Vytautas Jagelavičius, is among the candidates of the national team.
Another Elektrėnai-born ice hockey legend is Mindaugas Kieras, a 37-year old mastermind behind Hockey Punks, a club in Vilnius which also has its academy. Kieras will represent his country for the 20th time, and that’s just one time less than a Hungarian ice hockey veteran Viktor Szelig. Kieras first played for Lithuania in 1999.
The Lithuanian men’s national team is currently ranked #25 in the International Ice Hockey Federation rating (48 countries in total) and has never competed in the Olympics. We did, however, finish #10 in the 1938 world championship! The support for ice hockey has been steadily growing – let’s hope 2018 will be the best year ever in the history of Lithuanian ice hockey.
Tickets for the 2018 IIHF World Ice Hockey Championship Division I Group B tournament in Kaunas can be purchased here. We're positive it'll be a week to remember!