WICHITA FALLS, Texas – Wildcats defenseman Kristaps Bazevics will continue his hockey career in Europe next season after signing a professional contract with Pori Ässät of the Finnish Elite League (Liiga).
“I worked really hard the last couple of years, and my goal was always to play professional hockey,” Bazevics said. “I am really happy to see that hard work pay off, but this is just the beginning.”
“We are pleased to see Kristaps take the next step in his hockey career,” Team President and General Manager Paul Baxter said. “We wish him all the best as he continues to pursue his dream of playing hockey professionally.”
Bazevics will likely start the season playing for Ässät’s junior team, but is confident he will rise to the professional ranks with hard work and determination.
“In Finland, teams do a great job of moving players up from juniors to the pro team, which is why I decided to play there for my last year of juniors,” the defenseman said. “I will have to prove myself every day to get called up, and when I do, I will have to work even harder to stay there.”
Bazevics skated in 63 contests for the Wildcats over parts of two seasons following a mid-season acquisition during the 2012-13 campaign, posting two goals, seven assists and 120 penalty minutes in the processes. In total, he played in 106 games and registered 19 points on seven goals and 12 assists during his three-year career in the North American Hockey League.
While he acknowledged all three of his years in the NAHL were crucial to his development, the native of Riga, Latvia was quick to identify his time in Wichita Falls as a pivotal moment in his career.
“In the NAHL, the game is really fast and physical, so you learn how to make decisions with the puck faster, which helped me a lot,”Bazevics said. “But playing for [former head coach and current GM] Paul [Baxter] was definitely a turning point in my career. I learned more about how to play defense in the season and a half that I was in Wichita Falls than the rest of my career combined.”
“My time in Wichita Falls was the best time of my life playing hockey, the group of guys we had last year was unbelievable,” he continued. “I have nothing but good things to say about the coaching staff we had, the fans, billets and everyone else who works for, or helps the organization exist and be successful.”
As he looks forward to a new chapter in his career, Bazevics spared a thought for some of the fringe benefits that will come with playing closer to home in Finland.
“My parents and my grandfather will have a chance to visit me more, and actually see me play live,” he said. “I don’t think my grandfather missed a single game I played last season, even though he had to wake up at 2 or 3 a.m. At least he will get some sleep at night this season.”