Harijs Vitolins

Probably not a lot of NHL fans know the name Harijs Violins. But for three generations now that has been the grand name of hockey in Latvia.

Lets go in reverse order. Some NHL fans may remember this hockey card. It came out in 1990 and the photo was taken from the 1989 Soviet club team tour of the NHL. Vitolins, centre for Dynamo Riga, is seen here lining up beside a member of the Minnesota North Stars.

In a couple of short years the Soviet Union collapsed and all their great players began getting full permission to pursue hockey careers in North America. Vitolins made the jump in 1992-93, though spent much of the season playing in Switzerland.

In 1993-94 Vitolins returned to North America. A draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets, Vitolins played a nice role on the Jets farm team in Moncton that season. He was rewarded for his strong play with a call up to the Jets. It lasted 8 games in which he never registered a point.

Though Vitolins showed good progress in the AHL and had his cup of coffee in the NHL, he opted to return to Europe after that season. He played out the rest of his hockey days in Switzerland. He finally retired in 2005.

Though he fell in love with Switzerland he never forgot his home country of Latvia. Seven times he represented the young country at the World championships, helping to cement the country's status in the A pool. The highlight of his national team career came in 2002 when he helped Latvia qualify for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. He proceeded to score 2 goals and 4 points in 4 Olympic games and also acted as the country's flag bearer.

Harijs Vitolins has returned to Latvia and is a coach nowadays. It seems only fitting as he is the third generation of Latvian hockey royalty.

Accounts are sketchy due to poor statistical record keeping, but his father, Harijs Vitolins II, had a brief career in Riga. But his grandfather, the original Harijs Vitolins, was the real hockey legend of Latvia.

Born in Riga in 1915, the elder Vitolins was a winger-turned-defenceman who was described as having "an excellent understanding of the game." He represented Latvia at the 1939 World Championships but never represented the Soviet Union internationally when they incorporated Latvia into their fold. Vitolins continued playing for Riga until 1956 and coached there until 1975!

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