Like most other European countries, hockey in Latvia developed from the tradition game of bandy-field hockey on ice. Bandy championships were already taking place in Riga prior to World War I and the city later became the center of hockey in Latvia. Three Riga-based teams -- the German Club Union, the university sport club US (Universitates Sports), and the army sports club ASK -- became some of the best-known teams in Europe by the 1930s. Latvia held its first championship in 1931-32, with nine teams taking part. The national championship of the Republic of Latvia (as a part of the Soviet Union) began in 1946 and were held ever year until the breakup of the USSR.
The Latvijas Hokeja Federacija (Latvian Ice Hockey Federation) was founded on
January 5, 1923 and became a member of International Ice Hockey Federation on February 22, 1931. The Latvian National Team played its first international game on February 27, 1932 and beat Lithuania 3-0. Its first international tournament was the 1932 European Championship in Berlin. Prior to World War II, Latvia took part in five World Championships, including the 1936 Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. The most successful Latvian player of this time period was Leonid Vedejs, who played in 34 out of 36 international games for Latvia between 1932 and 1940. Latvia's final international match was a 2-1 victory over Estonia in Riga on March 10, 1940. On April 27, 1946, Latvia was ejected from the IIHF after becoming a part of the Soviet Union. During the late 1940's, goalie Harijs was the best Latvian player. His untimely death in 1950 cut short a promising international career.
Following its incorporation into the Soviet Union after World War II, the best Latvian teams began to play for the USSR championship and Latvian players often acted as coaches for other Soviet players. The most successful Latvian team was Dynamo Riga which was coached by the legendary National Team instructor Viktor Tikhonov from 1971 to 1977. The first well known Latvian player was Helmut Balderis, who starred for the Soviet National Team from 1976 to 1983. Latvians Arturs Irbe and Sandis Ozolinsh have made large impacts in the NHL during the 1990's.
After re-gaining its independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Latvia again held a national championship in 1991-92. The top clubs have been NIK'S Brih Riga, Essamika Ogre, Juniors Riga, Riga Alianse and BHS Ogre. Latvia re-joined the International Ice Hockey Federation on May 6, 1992. They rose quickly through the World Championship pool system. Latvia won the "C" Pool tournament in 1993 and the "B" Pool competition three years later. They finished 7th at their first "A" Pool World Championship in 1997. They remain in "A" Pool despite recent struggles at that level.