Seven days of sports games in the biggest arena in the Baltics. Seven Lithuanian victories. Gold medals for ice hockey and tickets to the Euroleague Final Four weekend in Belgrade. Is it a dream? Not at all. This is what the fourth week of April looked like in Kaunas, Lithuania.
It was the first time Kaunas hosted an international ice hockey event of this size – in fact, IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B tournament turned out to become the biggest ice hockey event in the history of Lithuania! 6000 people attended the championship opening on April 22nd, and a substantial crowd of 10000 fans cheered for Team Lithuania during the award ceremony on April 28th. The only Kaunas-born player of Team Lithuania, Arnoldas Bosas, was among the top scorers and was awarded as the best forward of the tournament. It was the last time four players won the shirts of Team Lithuania, including the NHL legends Darius Kasparaitis and Dainius Zubrus.
Team Japan was awarded silver medals – in fact, was amazing to see so many Japanese fans in Žalgirio arena! Many people we met were diplomats from the Japanese embassy in Vilnius, but not only. We also had the pleasure to shake hands with Kayoko Takeda, the charming wife of the head coach of Team Japan, who said she fell in love with nature in Kaunas.
Hiroya Inoue, one of the diplomats at the embassy, told us a story about the Japanese flag he and his friends (who both came just for ice hockey all the way from Japan! Wow!) brought to Žalgirio arena. The ambassador, His Excellency Mr Toyoei Shigeeda, worked as a consul-general in Frankfurt, Germany, before coming to Lithuania. In 2011, he had the privilege to attend the FIFA Women’s World Cup and cheer for the Japanese team. It went on to become the first ever Asian team to win a FIFA world cup! All of the team members signed on the flag that we saw in Žalgirio arena.
Fans of Ukrainian, Romanian, Estonian and Croatian teams were also visible in Kaunas and the arena. Especially the Croatians, as they mostly were members of the NATO mission in Lithuania!
The debut of a world-class ice hockey event in Kaunas coincided with Euroleague playoffs - in fact, our team BC Žalgiris Kaunas hadn’t made it this far in the strongest league in Europe since 1999. This is probably why everyone gave the green light for the ice hockey championship in the first place! It’s now time to give a round of applause for the technical staff in Žalgirio arena – the team worked long hours to cover the ice rink with wooden slabs and vice versa four nights in a row, as the Euroleague matches against Olympiacos were held – and won! – on Tuesday and Thursday. Ah, just watch the timelapse video.
BC Žalgiris Kaunas went the extra mile and gave away some 15,000 free t-shirts for the fans – it’s just another example of how intense and emotional last week was.
Another great thing was the mutual support between the ice hockey family and the basketball family. Players of Team Lithuania and Žalgiris each other’s matches, as well as the head coaches, and the positive vibes added to the perfect results and over-the-top emotions of tens of thousands of people in Kaunas and Lithuania.
The grand sports week of 2018 might be over, but the sports aren’t going anywhere. The Kaunas Marathon is in 6 weeks! Have you registered?