VILNIUS — A consortium of Lithuanian businessmen went public Friday with their interest in creating a second Kontinental Hockey League team based in Vilnius.
The main instigators behind the move are businessmen involved in the Vėtra football club which plays in Lithuania’s A-Lyga. Vėtra’s vice president Antonui Treušnikovui sees the move as a great form of expansion for the Vėtra club.
Treušnikovui told Lietuvos Rytas Friday that the club had been considering starting a basketball franchise before instead settling on ice hockey.
It is an ambitious move and one that is certainly going to be met with its fair share of skepticism about its prospects considering the economic climate and the number of professional sports teams around the world that are folding as a result of the crisis. Only on Thursday one of Latvia’s premier basketball clubs ASK Riga declared bankruptcy.
Currently ranked 19th in the world, Lithuania have recently been demoted to Group 3 for next year’s ice hockey world championships and are hardly known for producing reputable ice hockey players, with just one Lithuanian, Dainius Zubrus currently playing in the National Hockey League. Meanwhile the Baltics’ only team in the KHL, Dinamo Riga are one of the worst-performing teams in the league.
Lithuania does not currently have a strong national league with their top teams instead opting to play in either Latvia or Belarus where they are, at best, mid-table teams.
Treušnikovui recognizes this and accepts that a large percentage of the team will be made up of foreign signings, which is certainly not uncommon in European sports. However, other sports have succeeded by already having strong fan bases for the sport in question and Lithuanians are hardly known for their love of ice hockey.