SANDIS OZOLINSH IS WELCOMED BY RIGA FANS
by Didzis Rudmanis
Legendary Latvian defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh has signed a one year contract with the KHL’s Dinamo Riga. The contract was signed on July 14, once the 36-year-old player had just returned from Denver (Colorado, USA), where his family (including his two children) is currently living. Dinamo Riga was the club where Ozolinsh began his career in 1990-1991. He began his NHL career in 1992-93, and only two seasons later played in his first NHL All-Star Game. Altogether he played in seven NHL All-Star games, but his career biggest highlight remains winning the 1995-1996 Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche. He was among the official nominees for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the NHL's best defenseman, in 1996-1997.
Ozolinsh thereafter suffered through some well-publicized problems with alcohol, when finally in late 2005 he voluntarily entered the NHL’s substance abuse program. In March, 2006, he was traded by the Anaheim Ducks to the New York Rangers and resumed his NHL career, but in December, 2006 the Rangers placed Ozolinsh on waivers. After going unclaimed, he was assigned to the Rangers' AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, where he never actually played. Instead, in 2007 he began training on his own, and signed as a free agent in November, 2007, with the San Jose Sharks. Ozolinsh played 39 games with San Jose, although he didn’t play a single game after February 14, 2008, either in the NHL or anywhere else, and has not done so since that time. Ozolinsh has played in parts of 15 NHL seasons, from 1992-1993 through 2007-2008, with San Jose, Colorado, Carolina, Florida, Anaheim, New York Rangers, and again San Jose. His last full season was with Carolina in 2000-2001, when he played in 72 games.
Dinamo Riga previously has tried to sign Ozolinsh for the club’s inaugural season in 2008-2009, but Ozolinsh refused the club's 0.75 million USD offer. It was rumoured that the NHL's Los Angeles Kings offered him a contract around the same time. According to Ozolinsh himself, over the past season he has been swimming, running and playing golf, but for the past few months he has also been working hard in the gym to regain his form.