Latvian Optibet Liga preview

Latvian Optibet Liga preview

08 Sep 2023 | Kristers Rozenlauks

The addition of an Estonian team has turned the Latvian league truly Baltic, and there’s now just one question lingering in everyone’s minds – What does the new season have in store?


Fate of the current Champions – Zemgale

As just about anyone could predict before the start of the previous season – Zemgale became champions! They had the strongest roster in the league, playing in both the Mestis (Finland’s 2nd tier of men’s hockey) and the Optibet Hockey League. However, the team has struggled with retaining their leaders, especially with them no longer playing in the Mestis. The biggest examples of this are their starting goalie Eriks Vitols (Leaving for Finland), top-scoring defenseman Harijs Brants (Denmark), and it doesn’t seem like they will be able to retain their top forwards Arturs Homjakovs (FA) & Ricards Bernhards (Poland). Their team is expected to be incredibly young this year, at an average age of just 21, however this should not stop them from putting up a challenge for the Baltic Champions

Team’s leaving

The former flagship of Latvian hockey has sunk to the bottom of the gulf of Riga. The team had a strong start to last season, however controversies marred their otherwise good performance. Many of their leading players (such as young forward Patriks Zabusovs) left in the middle of the season, presumably due to unpaid salaries. Dinamo Riga ended up finishing 3rd in the regular season, before winning the first round of the playoffs against Kaunas 3-2 & losing against Zemgale in the semi-finals, 0-4.

The worst thing that can happen to a team mostly funded by the municipality they’re based in is the municipality giving up on funding sports. Dinaburga tried to mitigate the effects by combining with Daugavpils Ice Sports School (DLSS), however it wasn’t enough and the product was a very weak team. They won 2 of the 32 games played and were the only team to not qualify for the playoffs. Dinaburga is taking a break from the Baltic Championship until they can sort out their finances.

The Newcomers

It’s not the first rodeo for the two-time Latvian Champions in this league! Kurbads returns to the Optibet Hockey League with high ambitions and a focus on youth development. After skipping the 2020-21 season, losing in the Estonian league finals in 21-22, and finally winning the Estonian league in 22-23, they are now back and ready to triumph in the Baltic Championship.

The other finalists in the previous Estonian League season, the only Estonian team to defeat Kurbads in the regular season or play-offs – it’s HC Panter! While Panter is not expected to be one of the strongest teams in the league, you could count them as the strongest non-Latvian team. The race between them and (most likely) Vilnius Hockey Punks for this title will be exciting to watch.

Play-off format change

Last season:

  • TOP-8 get into playoffs; 1v8, 2v7…
  • First round – best-of-5
  • Semi-finals & Finals – best-of-7

New season:

  • TOP-6 get into playoffs
  • TOP-2 start from 2nd round
  • 3-6th place teams play best-of-5 first round
  • Semi-finals & Finals – best-of-7


Personally I’d expect Kurbads to become champions in a closely-fought finals against Zemgale. There’s not much that truly separates these 2 teams, and every game between them will be a fascinating contest.
Mogo isn’t out of the running yet though, and they might just be able to upset either one of those two teams.
As for the rest of the teams in the league, it’ll likely be a battle for 4th place – I don’t think there’s much of a difference that really sets apart the other 6 teams.

My prediction

  • 1 – HK Kurbads
  • 2 – HK Zemgale/LBTU
  • 3 – HK Mogo/LSPA
  • 4 – HS Riga
  • 5 – HC Panter (EST)
  • 6 – Prizma
  • 7 – Vilnius Hockey Punks (LTU)
  • 8 – Airwell Energija (LTU)
  • 9 – Kaunas City (LTU)

I’d expect 4th-7th to be highly volatile, and any one of those teams can finish in 4th place. The race for the last play-off spot will be very tight.

All in all, the new season looks to possibly be one of the most exciting we’ve seen in recent years. There are no certainties before the season starts, so there’s just one thing we can say – lets see what the new season brings!

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