RIGA – One of the greatest hockey players ever to come from Latvia hangs up his skates. Sandis Ozolins announced the end of his playing career live on TV on Tuesday night to become a politician.
“It’s a big decision. A very big part of my life comes to an end,” said Ozolins, who felt he’s not able to play at his full potential anymore. “I was fortunate that I was able to make my hobby and passion my work over such a long time. But can I do it for another year? No, I can’t.”
Ozolins already hung up his skate one time when he ended his NHL career in 2008 and opened a golf course in Latvia. But after a one-year sabbatical from the game he came back and joined newly founded KHL team Dinamo Riga. He played five years in the Russian-based league – four in Riga and one in between with Atlant Mytishi. “Ozo” also gave a comeback on the international stage by playing in the Final Olympic Qualification in Riga in 2013 and participating in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi where he carried the Latvian flag at the opening ceremony before captaining the national team to the quarter-finals.
The Latvians ousted favoured Switzerland in the qualification playoff and challenge eventual Olympic champion Canada in a 2-1 quarter-final loss.
Between his debut as an 18-year-old in the Soviet league with “old” Dinamo Riga to the end of his career with the new club of the same name, the 41-year-old defenceman appeared in over 1,400 games as a professional hockey player including 875 regular-season games in the NHL where he became the only Latvian Stanley Cup champion with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996. Ozolins appeared in seven NHL All-Star Games between 1994 and 2003.
Ozolins was on the Soviet/CIS U20 national teams twice before the collapse of the country and represented Latvia in three IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships and three Olympic Winter Games.
The long-time hockey player has a clear picture about his future. He joined the political party Latvijas attistibai and aims at a candidacy to join the Saeima, the Latvian parliament, in the upcoming elections in October.