VILNIUS – The news Lithuanian hockey fans were impatiently waiting for was announced on Monday: Dainius Zubrus returns to Lithuania to represent his country in the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Vilnius.
Lithuania’s governing body of hockey, NLRL, confirmed that the New Jersey Devils gave green light for Zubrus to join the national team once insurance formalities are clarified.
“I’m ready to defend the colours of Lithuania in Vilnius. This week I will return to Lithuania and join the team,” Zubrus said in a statement.
The 35-year-old forward, one of two Lithuanian-born players who made it to the NHL along with Darius Kasparaitis, hasn’t had many chances to compete in Division I tournaments usually held in April due to his NHL schedule. So far he has only done it once, during the NHL lockout in 2004/2005 when he scored three goals and had an assist in four games.
This year, after not making the playoffs with the New Jersey Devils, he didn’t want to miss the opportunity of representing his native country when Lithuania will play on home ice in its capital of Vilnius in what will be the biggest sport event of the year for the Baltic nation.
As of Sunday Lithuania, currently ranked 26th in the world, will play Great Britain, Poland, the Netherlands, Romania and Croatia in the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B
. The tournament winner will be promoted to the Division I Group A.
Zubrus has been playing in the NHL since 1996 when he was drafted 15th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers. He played all 82 games for the Devils this season, scored 13 goals and had as many assists this season. Zubrus played 1,169 NHL games (221 goals, 353 assists) and 92 playoff games (11 goals, 24 assists).
He hails from the Lithuanian town of Elektrenai where he started his junior career before moving to Kharkiv (Ukraine) and later to Canada as a teenager.