Lithuanian ice hockey team starts world championship with strongest lineup

Source: Xinhua| 2018-04-22 21:47:40|Editor: Yamei
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VILNIUS, April 22 (Xinhua) -- Lithuanian national hockey team starts the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships division I group B tournament in Kaunas, Lithuania on Sunday, with the strongest lineup in its history including two former National Hockey League (NHL) stars Darius Kasparaitis and Dainius Zubrus for the first time.

In Lithuania, a small Baltic State with a population of less than 3 million globally recognized for its basketball victories, ice hockey wasn't among the most popular sports.

Though, in recent days, ice hockey has been competing with basketball news to steal the headlines in local media.

Kaunas, Lithuania's second biggest city, hosts the 2018 IIHF ice hockey world championship division I group B tournament starting on Sunday.

Lithuania's national ice hockey team attending the tournament has already been named "dream team" due to its strongest lineup in the country's history.

For the first time, Lithuania's both former NHL stars Darius Kasparaitis and Dainius Zubrus will play for the national team.

Kasparaitis, 45, who played for Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers, during his 19-year career at NHL, will become one of the oldest rookies to debut national ice hockey team. Kasparaitis, defenseman, is recognized for his aggressive play. Earlier in his career he had played for Russian national ice hockey team and has won three Olympic medals.

After almost nine years since he last played for the NHL, Kasparaitis put his retirement on hold to play for Lithuanian national ice hockey team.

"This is once in a lifetime opportunity that we all have now. I have no doubts that this championship will be remembered for many years to come," Kasparaitis told association "Hockey Lietuva" website before the tournament.

The tournament in Kaunas will be the first venue Lithuania's both NFL stars playing together for the national team of Lithuania. Dainius Zubrus, 39, who has played for New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals, has retired from the NHL two years ago following 20-year career at the strongest hockey league. Currently, Zubrus is the captain of Lithuania's national hockey team.

The Lithuanian national hockey team is headed by German coach Bernd Haake and Canadian George Kingston who formerly was a coach of the Canadian national men's ice hockey team.

The Lithuanian team hopes to win the tournament and make it to the next stage in the world championship, division I group A.

During the tournament, the Lithuanian team will face the national teams of Croatia, Ukraine, Japan, Romania and Estonia.