VILNIUS – During his stay in his native country Lithuania, Dainius Zubrus received a state award from the President and talked about the possibility of representing his country next spring. Meanwhile, Latvian Aigars Cipruss was named head coach of Lithuania’s U20 national team.
Zubrus received the Order for Merits to Lithuania on Monday at the Presidential Palace and handed Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite a national team jersey with her name.
“Taking care of the young generation of Lithuania, its employment and healthy lifestyle is a duty for everyone of us. Active public activities of famous people are an inspiration for young people, which promotes responsibility and concern, aspiration to work for Lithuania and for the benefit of Lithuania,” Grybauskaite said in a press release.
Zubrus is currently the only NHL player from Lithuania, which is placed 26th in the IIHF World Ranking, after Darius Kasparaitis ended his career. He represented Lithuania at the 1996 IIHF World Championship D-Pool a few months before starting his NHL career with the Philadelphia Flyers and in the 2005 IIHF World Championship Division I Group B in the Netherlands when the NHL season was cancelled due to a labour conflict.
Due to schedule conflicts – the lower divisions of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship are player several weeks before the top event – he didn’t have many opportunities to represent his country more often but said we would love to represent Lithuania at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B on home ice in Vilnius if his schedule with the New Jersey Devils allows that. The 35-year-old recently extended his contract with the Devils until 2016.
“When you get an Order for Merits from the hands of the President, I don’t know how I could refuse to play for the national team,” Zubrus said at a press conference of the Lithuanian National Ice Hockey League (NLRL) on Tuesday in Vilnius. “Of course the NHL has first priority. But if we fail to make the playoffs and I’m healthy, I will come of course.”
Zubrus, who is married to a Canadian, didn’t come alone. He had his family with him, and lots of hockey equipment from the NHLPA’s Goals and Dreams program for hockey schools in Lithuania. It was the third year in a row he helped Lithuanian children with equipment and he also organized a practice for kids in Vilnius with the hockey school Gelezinio Vilko that was followed by many hockey fans looking for an autograph and journalists.
The forward has a charity foundation for youth hockey in Lithuania and serves as President of the Lithuanian youth hockey league NVLRL.
Cipruss to coach Lithuanian U20 team
Long-time Latvian national team forward Aigars Cipruss, who represented Latvia in 12 World Championships and two Olympic Winter Games, will coach the Lithuanian U20 national team in the upcoming season.
The 41-year-old was head coach of the Latvian U18 national team in 2012 and an assistant coach for the Latvian U20 national team in 2011 and 2012. He moved to Lithuania in 2012 where he has coached Baltica Vilnius, which plays in the second-tier Russian junior league MHL-B.
He’s currently the second foreign coach among national teams after Bernd Haake from Germany, who has been coaching the men’s national team since last season.
Cipruss will be assisted by Lithuanians Andrius Jadkauskas and goaltending coach Arunas Aleinikovas. Jadkauskas will also coach the U18 national team together with Daugirdas Gricius.
The U20 national team will play in a new tournament in Elektrenai, Lithuania, the Alexei Cherepanov Memorial Tournament, 23-28 August, with the U20 national teams from Great Britain and Poland, the Belarusian U18 national team, Lithuanian champion Energija Elektrenai and the MHL teams Omskie Yastreby and Kapitan Stupino.