Haralds Vasiljevs returned behind the bench of the Latvian national team after 14 years. Photo: Jelena Levsina
Latvia’s coach wants to make Olympics again
Haralds Vasiljevs has again become Latvia’s national coach after 14 years. Four Olympic cycles ago Latvia qualified for Salt Lake City 2002 with him.
Winning the Final Olympic Qualification tournament in Klagenfurt, Austria, was a big achievement for Latvia, which qualified for the first time since 1936 for the Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament. Meanwhile it has become routine. Latvia won the Final Olympic Qualification tournaments for Turin 2006, Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 on home ice in Riga and attempts to continue the streak with a win in the deciding game against Germany on Sunday.
Already then Vasiljevs took over from Leonids Beresnevs, who resigned from national coach duties last week.
With Vasiljevs the federation did not only choose an experienced coach from Riga but one who knows German hockey pretty well.
It was 1990, shortly before the break-up of the Soviet Union, when he left his coaching position with the Dinamo Riga farm team RASMS to become a player-coach in Dortmund. At that time he probably didn’t expect he would coach in Germany for two decades including at the top level with Krefeld Pinguine where his son Herberts enters his 10th season as the team captain and his 13th in the German DEL.
“There were many reasons. It’s difficult to explain how it arose. It just arose,” Haralds Vasiljevs said about the circumstances of his move to Germany. During his time with Krefeld he did not only lead the Latvian national team during the successful Olympic Qualification campaign but also at the World Championships in 2000 and 2001.
“A lot has changed in 14 years,” he said when asked to compare Latvian hockey of now and then. “The players changed, everything changed, it’s normal. There’s a better balance in world ice hockey today, all teams can play good hockey. We can expect a good game on Sunday.”
Originally another Vasiljevs was supposed to be on the national team according to the preliminary roster the federation published. Herberts Vasiljevs originally quit the national team when obtaining German citizenship after the 2011 Worlds but played for Latvia at the Olympics and Worlds in 2014.
Instead of him, who stayed with his club team, it was his father Haralds Vasiljevs, who gave his comeback with the national team, behind the bench. Vasiljevs originally came out of Dinamo Riga where he played in the top Soviet league together with his brother Edmunds, who represented the Soviet Union at the 1974 World Juniors where he was the goal scoring leader with seven markers.
At Dinamo Riga he was coached by Viktor Tikhonov. The legendary Soviet coach later moved to CSKA Moscow where Vasiljevs had his coaching apprenticeship under Tikhonov before returning to Riga.
After coaching in German club hockey and the Latvian national team he was also a youth coach in Graz, Austria, and was earlier named head coach of HK Zemgale/LLU in the Latvian league for the new season. After the tournament he will continue the job with the club team from Jelgava.
“I was surprised,” Vasiljevs admitted about getting the call to take over the national team last week. “But I’m always ready to coach the Latvian national team. I’m proud to be the national coach of Latvia. Everybody has to be proud to coach his country.”
Latvia had a good start into the tournament with an 8-1 victory against Austria but had more trouble than expected in a 3-1 victory against Japan. Latvia beat Japan 8-2 in their last official game, at the 2001 Worlds with Vasiljevs behind the bench.
“The Japanese did good work. They went up-tempo hockey. It wasn’t easy for us. The game went back and forth,” he said.
“I’m proud of our team. It’s better a victory like this than losing. We saw our weak points that we have to improve before the game against Germany because they’re a great team. There are many small things we have to improve.”
Having lived and coached in Germany for so many years, Vasiljevs looks like a good fit to be behind the bench in this winner-takes-all game tomorrow.
“The German team has many NHL players, we have many KHL players. It’s different hockey schools. Both play interesting hockey as we could see at this tournament. The German team played very well here but we will respond,” the 64-year-old said.
The Latvia-Germany game will be played at 18:00 local time (17:00 CET) and can be followed on the national broadcasters LTV7 and Sport1 in the two countries, and anywhere else on the live stream provided by the Olympic Channel.