Welcome to my first Insider Blog. I’m writing to you from Riga, Latvia, where I will be suiting up this season for Dinamo Riga of the Kontinental Hockey League, alongside my buddy and former Columbus teammate Duvie Westcott, not to mention a couple other ex-NHLers.
Even though it’s the middle of summer, things have been real busy for me. I left Minnesota last week, getting on a plane at 7:30 pm and landing in Amsterdam at 11 a.m. the next morning. Duvie and I had a nine-hour layover in Amsterdam, so we rented a hotel room at the airport to get some sleep.
The beds were smaller than a single – I mean, if you roll halfway over, you’re on the floor – and the funny thing was the beds were pushed together, so Duvie pushed them apart and faced them towards the TV. We got comfy and turned on the TV to find the only channel worth watching was CNN – also the only one we could understand. Duvie and I eventually made it to our next flight that had us landing in Riga at 11:30 p.m.
We were met at the airport by the team GM and Dimitri, our European agent. Dimitri took us to the hotel, where we will be staying until Aug. 20. It’s one of the nicest places I have ever stayed. The hotel has only been open for about a month, it’s very modern and all the staff speak English.
The next day Duvie and I explored the downtown (which is where our hotel is). We came to realize that Riga is a beautiful, clean, safe and active city. Riga is on the Baltic Sea, so they get weather very similar to Vancouver; lots of rain in the winter and very little snow, but I will confirm that in later blogs. Riga also has an English movie theater with all the latest films (this will come in handy).
Now about the food…half the time Duvie and I have no idea what we are ordering. We just point at the menu and say “this one please” and sure enough, it tastes excellent. We have not yet had a bad meal. The food is also quite expensive just like everything here.
On the ice, so far the practices have been the same as in North America except for the language barrier between the coach and myself. He is Slovakian and can speak Russian, Slovakian and very broken English. Duvie and I always try starting at the back of the line in practice to get a sense of what to do in the drill.
We have already had two games here in Riga. Our team has won both, so I hope this is a sign of good things to come during the regular season. The team has a total of 12 exhibition games in August and will be starting the regular season Sept. 2. The first game is 5,000 miles away from Riga (against Amur Khabarovsk, 45 miles from the Chinese border) completely on the other side of Russia. We will be playing seven games in 10 days on that trip, I believe.
Duvie and I arrived on July 29 and I am happy to say my wife Melissa and daughter Ava arrived Aug. 5. And, of course, the first thing the two of them did was sleep.
Well, time to wake up the family and go out to some more restaurants in this neat city. Maybe next time I will talk a little about the old city, which is more than 800 years old. This is where all the action is downtown.
Time to go and explore. Goodbye from Riga,
Mark Hartigan won the past two Stanley Cups with Anaheim and Detroit and has also played for Atlanta and Columbus in his NHL career. He is beginning his first season in the KHL with Dinamo Riga.