The Riga Hat Trick
by Andrew Podnieks|13 MAY 2023
Latvian captain Kaspars Daugavins is only of only three players who has played in all three World Championships played in Riga.
photo: Matt Zambonin / IIHF
The excitement was palatable when Riga hosted its first ever World Championship back in 2006. Two venues, all games, one city with incredible fans. It took a while for the tournament to make its way back, but in 2021 it took over hosting duties for Minsk, Belarus. Covid, however, limited fan attendance at the venues, and games were played to mostly empty arenas. 

This year, Riga is back--co-hosting with Tampere, Finland--and so are the fans. But of the 16 teams with a roster limit of 23 players, only three of a possible 368 players can claim the “Riga Hat Trick”—playing in 2006, 2021, and now this year.

Leading that trio of greybeards is Latvia’s own captain, Kaspars Daugavins. The 34-year-old (35 on Thursday) is in his 11th World Championship, none more memorable than his first. 

“The emotions I got in 2006, I’ll never forget,” Daugavins said after Friday’s 6-0 loss to Canada to open the 2023 event. “Same arena. It was packed, and probably twice as loud as today because it was the first time hosting. I was only 17 when I started, and at the time I thought I could play forever. Honestly, our fans are our sixth player, but today maybe it was too much for some of the guys. They got a little too excited and the game got away from us. Canada punished us right away.”

Daugavins played three games back in 2006, the first coming at the start of the Qualification Round, against Canada. That game was famous for a lengthy string of penalties incurred by the hosts that led to an IIHF record nine power-play goals for Canada in an 11-0 win.

“It’s a little improvement compared to that game,” Daugavins continued, with a grin, about the team’s loss on Friday, which was actually much closer than the score indicated. “That was actually my first game in ’06. It always sucks losing, but you sometimes learn more from the games you lose than the games you win.”

Since 2006, Daugavins has seen the world, played in three Olympics, 91 NHL games, and many years in leagues in Europe and North America. Still, 2006 will forever remain special for the Riga-born forward.

“It was the first time the Worlds were in Riga and Latvia. It was great for our fans. They have always been loyal to us, travelling around the world to watch them play, so to have this here is amazing, even though our fans will support us wherever we play. And they push us, which makes us play better.”

Kazakhstan’s Roman Starchenko is another member of the Riga Hat Trick Club. His situation is a little more improbable because the Kazakhs are one of those elevator teams that struggle to remain in the top pool but are able to move up from Division I-A with regularity. Still, Kazakhstan was demoted after a 15th-place finish in ’06 and have been up only six times since. This is currently their third straight year at the top, their best streak since 2004-06 and the only other time they stayed up as long. Not surprisingly, Starchenko has been team captain for much of the last few years. Like Daugavins, 2006 was his first WM, and he has played in all eight tournaments since then that the Kazakhs have been at the top.

Lastly, the IIHF’s games-played record holder Andres Ambuhl has also played at all three Riga hostings. "We didn't make the quarter-finals, so it wasn't a memorable year for us," he demurred. Ambuhl played in his 124th World Championship game Saturday afternoon against Slovenia, but his first WM predates Riga.

Indeed, Ambuhl played at the 2004 tournament in Prague and Ostrava and has been a mainstay ever since. The 39-year-old wore number 16 in his WM debut but since 2005 has worn the familiar 10 for which he is famous. "I always admired Pavel Bure growing up, so that's why I wear 10," Ambuhl revealed.