Vitolins succeeds Bob Hartley, who had coached the team for five years but won’t be able to continue due to his commitment and busy schedule with KHL club Avangard Omsk.
“I’m grateful to the LHF for the trust and opportunity to lead the Latvian national team at the Olympic Qualification tournament,” said Vitolins. “I understand that this is a very important tournament for Latvian hockey and I confirm that both I and the coaching staff will make the upmost effort to get a ticket to the Beijing Olympic Games. I’m glad that Artis Abols agreed to become my assistant.”
The 53-year-old was a long-time national team player of Latvia. He first joined the international stage at the 1988 World Juniors with the Soviet U20 national team and as adult represented independent Latvia that moved its way up from the lower divisions in the early 90s until Vitolins’ first top-level senior World Championship in 1997. He played six top-level Worlds and was Latvia’s captain at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
In 2005 he finished his professional career and turned to coaching, first at amateur level in Switzerland where he was playing the later part of his career and later as assistant coach for KHL teams in Moscow and St. Petersburg, most recently for Spartak Moscow during the past two seasons.
He also worked as an assistant coach for the Latvian national team between 2004 and 2011 and later assisted Oleg Znarok at the Russian national team between 2014 and 2018. He became the first foreign head coach of the Russian national team when he replaced suspended Znarok in the final of the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship winning gold. As an assistant coach he was also part of the Olympic Athletes from Russia team that won gold at the 2018 Olympics.
After missing out on qualification for PyeongChang 2018, Latvia will aim at it’s sixth Olympic participation in ice hockey after 1936, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014. The Latvian men’s national team will host the Final Olympic Qualification Group E with France, Italy and Hungary at Arena Riga from 26-29 August. The winner of the four-team tournament qualifies for the Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament next year. Other groups will be hosted in Bratislava and Oslo.
Information on the conditions for attending the games as spectator and ticket sale will be known later.
Click here for the Olympic Qualification overview.