VILNIUS – In hockey circles Petras Nauseda has mostly been known as a defenceman on the Lithuanian national team. Since last year however, he is now at the forefront of Lithuanian hockey, heading the Lithuanian Ice Hockey Federation as President.
Born in Elektrenai, where players like Darius Kasparaitis and Dainus Zubrus hail from, Nauseda wore the colours of Energija Elektrenai, the Lithuanian team that participates in the Latvian league, and of the national team. He won the Division I silver with Lithuania in 2006 and was the top-scoring defenceman in the 2009 IIHF World Championship Division I Group A, hosted by Lithuania in the capital Vilnius. He represented Lithuanian national teams in 15 IIHF events, including eight with the men’s national team.
Now 26, his involvement in hockey has changed drastically in the last few years. It began in 2006 when he founded “Sportas vaikams” (“Sports for Kids”), a sports program for orphans and kids in difficult family situations in Elektrenai. Later he led Energija Elektrenai as a president and general director, before being elected president of the Lithuanian Ice Hockey Federation (LLRF) in 2010, succeeding long-time president Rolandas Bucys.
In this position he wants to make ice hockey bigger and more popular in what is a decidedly basketball-crazy country.
IIHF.com talked to Nauseda, who is currently at the IIHF Semi-Annual Congress in Istanbul.
It is pretty seldom that a player leads a national ice hockey association. How did it come that you became president last year?
I was just 24 when I was selected. The members of ice hockey in Lithuania noticed stagnation and I was elected to change the situation. With a nine-man Council elected by our members and a General Secretary we are now closer to the IIHF’s organizational structure. The biggest problem we had is it that the financial situation is a bit painful, but we’re working on it and keep going on.
How did you decide to step up as a young player and lead the Lithuanian Ice Hockey Federation?
When I was elected, I already had some experience. I started working with Energija, which is the basic club for all our national teams, and I did a lot of work in sport management while I was playing. I was studying at two universities at the same time, sport management and law. I got a lot of theoretical experience as well as practical experience. That’s why the members wished to see me at the position I am right now.
You’re involved in Lithuanian hockey in many positions. Is it sometimes difficult to cope with all the roles, and how do you deal with possible conflicts of interest as a player and president?
I don’t know how long I can mix so much work. It’s not easy, there’s not enough time to do everything in one day and play hockey as well. In Energija I’m not president anymore, only general director. I told my friends that when I’m on the ice, I’m one of you and we’re friends. I’m not a president or politician when I’m on the ice, although in the beginning it was a bit strange and difficult.
How would you describe the Lithuanian hockey landscape?
The main goal of our new group was to organize a normal national championship, which now includes 27 teams in two tiers and three divisions. Additionally, we have Energija Elektrenai playing in the Latvian league. We have now more than 800 registered senior players and 400 players in youth leagues. We also have Latvian teams and teams from Kaliningrad (Russia) playing here. And it’s growing. The main thing for us was really to create a new national league and we’re working to grow it. Our main goal is to make ice hockey a bigger sport in Lithuania and for that we need more teams, players and rinks. The arena in Elektrenai is currently being reconstructed and there will be new multifunctional arenas in Kaunas and Klaipeda. We are working to grow the championship to these cities in the future.
Yesterday a new team, HC Baltica from Vilnius, debuted in the Russian junior league MHL-B with a 5-2 win against Zelenograd. What can you say about this new project?
HC Baltica is a new club that will play in the Russian junior league MHL-B as of the 2011-2012 season. They have very ambitious plans for the future. For this season they signed nine Lithuanian players as well as players from Russia, Slovakia, Poland and Denmark. It is coached by our former national team coach Dmitri Medvedev.
Apart from HC Baltica, we also have an U18 team playing in the Belarusian championship this season coached by Andrejus Jadkauskas, our U18 national team coach.
The leading club team Energija Elektrenai, which plays in the Latvian senior league, moved to Vilnius last year. Will it stay there?
Due to the reconstruction, Energija played its games in Vilnius last season where we could attract new fans and sponsorship deals. We will also begin the new season in Vilnius for sure because the arena in Elektrenai is still under construction.
In 2010 the KHL was discussing a team in Lithuania, Vetra Vilnius. What do you think about this?
There was interest from Russian businessmen to do something, but there was nothing concrete and nothing the federation was involved. Therefore I cannot say much about it.
The 2009 IIHF World Championship Division I Group A in Vilnius was a success for Lithuanian hockey. Will Lithuania host more events in the future?
We are planning to apply in all categories for the 2012-2013 season, but right now the possible venues are still under construction. We will have great new arenas to host events in Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipeda or Elektrenai.
You played in the 2009 IIHF World Championship Division I in Vilnius before up to 8,700 fans. How was that experience for you?
This was a good tournament for us. We had big support from our fans. It was good for our team, for me as a defenceman and we had good games, although we ended up in fourth place. I have only warm memories from this championship.
What are your wishes for the future of Lithuanian ice hockey?
I want to make ice hockey one of the most popular sports in Lithuania. We need time for this and we need infrastructure for this, and people who want to work on our goals. We also get help from our friends from the Latvian and Belarusian federations where our teams play. I’m very pleased that Kirovs Lipmans (President of the Latvian Hockey Federation) and Yevgeni Vorsin (President of the Belarusian Ice Hockey Association) help us. I wish ice hockey in the future will be as popular as in Belarus or Latvia, then we will have a very strong region.