RIGA – It was announced on Tuesday through an open letter from Denver signed by Sandis Ozolins and published by Dinamo Riga. The Latvian Stanley Cup winner will make a comeback with his native team after a one-year sabbatical from hockey.
“Ozo” made his professional debut in 1990 with Dinamo Riga in the Soviet League as an 18-year-old under head coach Petr Vorobiev, but Ozolins and Dinamo went separate ways during the 1991-1992 season.
Dinamo Riga continued to exist in the Russian league after Latvia’s independence under the names of Stars Riga and Pardaugava Riga until 1995. It ceased to exist when the Russian league became closed but a new club with the old name was re-established when the Russian league KHL accepted three teams from former Soviet countries in 2008.
Ozolins, as many other players from the Soviet system, went to the NHL. He was a 1991 second-round draft pick from the San Jose Sharks and after one year in their farm team, he made it to the NHL. During his 16 NHL seasons, he played in San José, Colorado, Florida, Anaheim, the New York Rangers and again San Jose, where he concluded his NHL career in 2008.
The offensive-minded defenceman amassed 190 goals and 467 assists in 1,012 NHL games including playoffs, and was a seven-time NHL All-Star. In 1996, he won the Stanley Cup with Colorado. He has played more games in the NHL than any other Latvian player.
For the Latvian national team, Ozolins appeared in two Olympic Games and in two World Championships after he had played for the Soviet and CIS junior national team.
Now, after his one-year time-out, the Sigulda native is back with his former club Dinamo Riga, announcing that he accepted the proposal of the Dinamo management to continue his career in the KHL.
“I carefully thought this over before making any decisions and although there were sentimental aspects involved, the decision is based on objective and professional reasons,” Ozolins wrote in his letter, noting that he hopes to help the team with his experience.
“I’m sure that we will be able to fulfil your (the Latvian fans’) hopes. I don’t know if there will be miracles but my heart will be on the ice,” the 37-year-old announced to his fans.
He will be the only player left from the Soviet-time Dinamo roster, now that goalkeeper Sergejs Naumovs has been replaced by Edgars Masalskis (from Duisburg, Germany).
Dinamo Riga was the best foreign team in the KHL, finishing the regular season in tenth place.