RIGA - For hockey-loving Latvians, things don't get much better than this. People will be licking their frosted over lips at the prospect of a game between a selection of some of the best North American hockey players and Riga 2000, the Latvian champions. The game is the first in the 10-match World Stars Tour.
Well-known hockey stars, such as Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, Sergei Fedorov, Rob Blake and Tie Domi and others, will be playing for the formidable lineup of the World Stars team.
"The match against Riga 2000 will certainly be one of the most significant events in Latvian hockey history. This is the first time that such a significant number of world class hockey stars will meet and play in Riga," said Viesturs Koziols, president of Riga 2000.
The World Stars Tour is taking place during the ongoing NHL lockout. Ten years ago a similar tour took place during another lockout. That tour was dedicated to Wayne Gretzky. Although the main goal of this year's tour is to promote hockey, the match in Riga will be dedicated to Sergei Zholtok, the Latvian hockey star who died on Nov. 3.
Some of Zholtok's former colleagues and teammates will be playing for the World Stars team. The visiting players will pay special tribute to their late teammate by visiting his grave.
During the World Stars' visit a variety of events aimed at promoting hockey will also take place in Riga. Some 150 young Latvian hockey players, who last year won various honors in the sport, will be given the opportunity to watch the high-profile hockey match free of charge.
"We are pleased to host the World Stars team in Riga. Just prior to hosting the World Hockey Championship it is a great honor and also a challenge for Latvia to show how much we love hockey and how well we are able to prepare our city for hosting world class stars," Riga Mayor Gundars Bojars said. The Riga City Council is one of the key supporters of the game.
However, big though the event doubtless is, its ticket prices will raise a few eyebrows. Tickets for the game will cost between 20 (30 euros) to 100 lats. But a portion of the proceeds raised from the tour will be donated to the charity Goals and Dreams, a program that gives underprivileged children around the world opportunities to participate in hockey.