About the League
29-year-old Raimonds Vilkoits, who played in Junior Hockey League just 8 years ago, will coach HK Riga in the upcoming season. JHL media relations department found out why of the top Dinamo Riga prospects and 2011 Challenge Cup participant had planned to become a sports doctor and why he turned to coaching at just 27.
- You will make your debut as the head-coach in the 2019-20 season. Do you feel nervous?
- I can’t describe this feeling. I was a little surprised right after I was appointed but I never gave in to euphoria. Obviously, there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with the position so I have to be up for the task. We have worked for several years now. We have a plan, so there are no worries – only joy from the fact that I’m trusted at the club.
- You JHL coaching career began just two years ago. In the 2017-18 season you were one of Ronalds Ozolins’ assistants at HK Riga. You were also a member of Aigars Cipruss’ coaching staff in the 2018-19 season.
- I had worked with kids in Jelgava for some time before that and also had spent 18 months with Mogo junior hockey school. At the same time, I had also played for Mogo in Latvian championship. I have a very warm relationship with the club. I have a lot of friends there. Of course, back then at practices I mainly worked for myself because I played irregularly.
- Do you still skate?
- When I was a kid, I used to play for Saga Riga. I’m back with them now. We play in amateur city championship. It’s great to be back on my childhood team. I get to meet a lot of old friends who had retired from professional hockey due to various reasons. We have an excellent opportunity to look back at exciting moments of the common past, so the atmosphere is great on the team. Sometimes in coaching you lack emotions, which you get to feel as a player. Sometimes you just want to get loose and remember what those emotions are like. I guess, you can say that it’s something like fitness – competition is there but there is no responsibility for result.
- You landed a coaching job at HK Riga at 27. Six years prior to that you had been one of JHL stars and even played a few games in KHL.
- At a certain moment I decided to move to another country and try myself out as an import. Back then I didn’t fully understand what I was getting into. I wasn’t ready for the challenge mentally. After sometime I was no longer myself. I didn’t have that inner core. On top of that, I had a string of pretty serious injuries. Back when I was still on Riga, I was working on getting my diploma in coaching. I knew that hockey life can take various turns. One day I decided to retire and switch to coaching. I don’t regret the decision. In the end, my actions led me to becoming HK Riga head-coach, which is great.
- In 2011 you mentioned that if you wouldn’t make it as a hockey player, you would become a sports doctor.
- To be honest with you, when my playing career was winding down, I even took an extra biology test to enroll to medical school. Medicine really interests me. I like to watch Riga doctors at work. Although, hockey is my true passion. I realized that sports interest me more.
- You went back to JHL in 2017, six years after graduation. What differences jump out at you?
- First of all, ice surface size is different. Canadian-sized ice is awesome. It really changes the dynamics of the game. I also notice that the league has become a little younger. It’s also noticeable that JHL’s geography has expanded and the structure of the championship has also changed. But JHL still boasts excitement, emotions and speed.
- Do you get nostalgic at the games?
- Of course. Goals, scoring chances and even entire Riga games come back to mind. JHL Challenge Cup in Ufa and series in North America with Red Stars were memorable. Most of my memories are about my teammates. Many of them still follow the junior team. When I run into them at Inbox Arena, they come up to me, ask questions and give their support.
- In 2011 HK Riga finished 2nd in their division, while the team has missed the playoffs for several years in a row now. What has happened and how you, as the head-coach, can fix it?
- It’s a difficult question. The biggest factor is that we went through generational change. We were brought up in a different environment and it shows in our character traits. Besides, we had serious experience. Before joining JHL team, we had played for Dinamo Juniors in Belarus Extraliga. To get the team to a new level, we need to understand that this new generation of players have different values and a special mentality. That’s why we need to find the right approach, adjust our demands and motivation in such a way that they were understood. In any case, we really want to make the playoffs. Everybody misses such games. Our goal is to finish among Top-8 teams in our conference.
- HK Riga is going into the season with a young coaching staff. Aleksandrs Nizivijs has the most experience on the staff.
- I had a chance to play with Aleksandrs when Julius Supler called me up to Dinamo. Even though, we didn’t play on the same line, I still followed him and took up a few things after him. For instance, a few shotoout moves. He was confident and always knew what he had to do. He has an incredible emotional barrier. I think, that’s why Aleksandrs was so great at shootout. Now we work together and we talk a lot. We often write down our ideas and thoughts. We are feeling each other out yet. We need to come up with roles for ourselves at the team. We need to decide who’s more comfortable at doing certain things. As of right now, Aleksandrs Nizivijs works with forwards at the games.