Sometimes, playing a sport can cause you to pick up your things and travel around the world to experience new opportunities. And sometimes, that requires you to leave people behind, which can be difficult, but if it pays off, it all becomes worth it. Hockey’s a fast paced sport, and it’s the sport that has completely changed the life of Martins Vitolins, star forward of the North American Tier III Hockey League Long Beach Sharks. From breaking records to playing in the NA3HL Top Prospects Tournament, Martins has developed his own story along the way and it all started on the ice.
Before every game, Vitolins arrives at the rink, checks his sticks, and tapes them. His next order of action is to look at the night’s opponent and get the scouting report of their best players. After relaxing with his teammates for a little while, it’s time to get the uniform on and lace up his skates to hit the ice.
Vitolins looks out onto the ice – a place he knows very well. He started playing hockey when he was 7-years old. His dad took him to an open skate and ever since then, he knew he wanted to play hockey. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” Vitolins said. “Since my first skate hockey has been everything to me.”
Prior to playing the sport himself, Vitolins admits that he didn’t really care about hockey that much. He only watched a few games, but never expressed much interest until he started experiencing it firsthand.
Vitolins grew up in Latvia, a country situated between Lithuania and Estonia. There, he played until he was 16. He then moved 300 miles away from his family to Sweden to continue playing hockey for three years. Now 21-years old, he finds himself living in New York, over 4,000 miles away from home, to play the sport he loves.
Vitolins takes a moment between plays. “The first year was the hardest. It was so hard to be away from friends and family. After that, every year was easier because I started to understand why. I started to look at it in a different way and understood that I went to a different country to play hockey and get better at it. I knew that I’d always have to travel to play hockey because it’s not that good in Latvia.”
Along the way, Vitolins has had to make adjustments due to the differences between the way the game is played in the states compared to Latvia or Sweden. He mentioned that the game is a lot faster because the rink is smaller. In Europe, the game is more about skill, whereas in the United States, the game is much more about physicality.
Despite the fights that may sometimes break out on the ice, Vitolins says that that’s usually where they stay because they play based on emotions. “Last year I had a pretty funny moment. I played against one of my best friends and we kind of got into a small fight. After the game we just laughed about it,” said Vitolins.
Vitolins celebrates after scoring a goal. He has become the top goal-scorer in the league, scoring 163 points this season, which also breaks the Tier III Junior Hockey League points record. The record was originally 123 points, set by Lane King in the 2013-2014 season.
He celebrates with his teammates after the shot. Vitolins hopes to advance to a D1 college and play in the NCAA. If not, he plans on going back to Europe to play professionally. When asked what his dream school would be, he said that the University of North Dakota would be the school he’d love to play for.
Vitolins prepares for the puck to drop. Having played hockey most of his life, Vitolins has made a lot of memories. His favorite thus far has been playing on the World Juniors under 18 team and winning a gold medal.
No stranger to scoring, Vitolins scores the game-winning shot in overtime against the New England Stars.
Vitolins celebrates after the goal. The best part of the game, according to him, is the fun he experiences while playing. He hopes to close the season with a championship. Having turned 21 this year, the 2016-2017 season is his final campaign at the Junior Hockey level and he’s definitely made it a memorable one.