Archive for Belarus national team

Olympic Blues Of Belarus


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The margin for error throughout the entire history of Olympic ice hockey has never been anything less than razor thin. And the enormus pressure traditionally accompanying the planet’s most high-profile international ice hockey tournament has always been palpable. All too often, it has been this lethal combination which has resulted in disaster for so many hopes and dreams of a number of different national teams over the years.

Aside from a fateful third period in the opening contest against upstart Slovenia, it is hard to be extremely critical of the BELARUS national team’s entire performance at the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group F Qualfication Tournament in Vojens, Denmark. Indeed, experienced Belarus netminder VITALI KOVAL of Russian Kontinental Hockey League club Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod only faced five shots in the last twenty minutes against the surprising Slovenians at the sparsely-attended Syd Energi Arena. But the two goals surrendered (one via a penalty shot) with virtually no one present to bear witness in Vojens ultimately decided which of these two countries will be skating in Sochi next season with the whole world watching.

To cut the unfortunate Koval a little bit of slack, it should be recalled that Belarus blasted Slovenia 7-1 at the 2011 IIHF World Championships in Slovakia but the Olympic squad of new national team trainer ANDREI SKABELKA (which featured eleven of the very same players — including hat trick hero ANDREI MIKHALEV — who had hammered the Slovenians in Bratislava) did not come any where near close to flexing that same kind of offensive muscle against the improved Slovenians at the qualification tournament in Denmark.

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In a return meeting of the famous quarterfinal match from the 2002 Winter Olympic Games at Salt Lake City, youthful Belarus right wing SERGEI KOSTITSYN (74) of the Montreal Canadiens shields the puck from Sweden defenseman HENRIK TALLINDER (10) of the Buffalo Sabres during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games – Group C contest at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver.
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Even before the National Hockey League’s well-documented “Lock-Out” situation was settled earlier this season, Belarus never really were counting on either MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the 29-year-old center who just so happens to be the second leading scorer in the history of the national team (44 ga, 15 go, 37 pts) at major internatonal tournaments, or right wing SERGEI KOSTITSYN of the Nashville Predators. Skabelka’s charges might have done with the skill and experience of NHL veteran ANDREI KOSTITSYN, the 28-year-old who has skated for Belarus at six IIHF World Championships (27 ga, 7 go, 18 pts) in his career, for the Olympic qualification tournament in Denmark. On the eve of the competition in Vojens, however, the patient trainer Skabelka was finally forced to continue without the elder Kostitsyn brother after the Traktor Chelyabinsk right wing remained inexplicably absent from national team training camp.

Unlike the host nation Denmark, the Belarusians were also unable to secure the release of an American Hockey League player for the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group F Qualfication Tournament in Vojens. The Tampa Bay Lightning were unwilling to part with undrafted prospect DMITRI KOROBOV, the 23-year-old defenseman who has spent the entire season with the Syracuse Crunch and is yet to make his NHL debut after inking a two-year, two-way contract last August. The former Dynamo Minsk rearguard has already appeared for Belarus at the annual IIHF World Championships on three occasions (16 ga, 2 go, 8 pts), including the last two events.

The Belarusian cause, it should be noted, could have also done with more from aging center ALEXEI KALYUZHNY of Russian KHL club Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. The 35-year-old veteran of three Winter Olympic Games (1998, 2002, 2010) is, in fact, the all-time leading scorer for Belaurs at major international tournaments (12 app, 74 ga, 20 go, 45 pts) and had done particularly well scoring (ten goals in seventeen games) on his last three appearances for the national side. Alas, Kalyuzhny was held off the scoresheet during the critical Olympic qualifier with the Slovenia at Vojens.

Seasoned right wing KONSTANTIN KOLTSOV of Russian KHL club Atlant Mytishchi Moscow, the two-time Olympic veteran who once was the first round pick (# 18 overall) of the Pittsburgh Penguins and has represented Belarus at nine major international tournaments (42 ga, 9 go, 18 pts) in his career, also did not do much to impress at Vojens.

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Belarus right wing ANDREI KOSTITSYN (23), the 28-year-old veteran who was the tenth overall player selected at the 2003 National Hockey League Draft and skated 398 NHL games (103 go, 222 pts) for the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators before signing with Russian KHL club Traktor Chelyabinsk this past fall, missed the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada as a result of a knee injury and will not be appearing at the 2014 Sochi Games, either.
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It was, of course, very sad that the national team of Belarus was forced to soldier on in Denmark without the services of its late captain RUSLAN SALEI, the three-time Olympian and long-time NHL defenseman who tragically lost his life when a plane carrying the entire Russian KHL squad of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crashed in September of 2011; considering that Latvia, who lost Olympic veteran Karlis Skrastins in that terrible accident a few years ago, were capably skippered by the 40-year-old NHL veteran Sandis Ozolins at their Olympic qualification tournament in Riga, it is not unreasonable to think that Salei, a rugged defender who skated 916 NHL games (45 go, 204 pts) in his career and would still have only been 38 years of age in February of 2013, could have had a major impact on the blue line for the Belarusians in Vojens.

Ironically enough, the influential third period penalty shot that turned the tide at the Syd Energi Arena in favor of the Slovenians once and for all had been conceded by inexperienced defenseman ILYA KAZNADEI, the 23-year-old Metallurg Zhlobin defenseman who has never suited up for Belarus at a major international tournament.

“Of course we feel a little bit of pressure because everybody knows in our country the government, they spent alot of money for sport and, you know, they need the results,” confessed current Belarus captain VLADIMIR DENISOV of Dynamo Minsk, the 28-year-old defenseman who skated two years in the American Hockey League (128 ga, 7 go, 28 pts) for the Lake Erie Monsters and Hartford Wolf Pack and also had a season in the Swiss Nationalliga A with HC Ambri Piotta, as well, after the rebounding 6-0 triumph over Ukraine on the second day of the Olympic qualification tournament in Denmark.

Much to the chagrin of ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, the demanding President of Belarus, the requisite results would not be forthcoming.

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Belarus right wing ALEXEI MIKHALEV (10) of Dynamo Minsk, the 34-year-old veteran who has skated at nine major international events (47 ga, 5 go, 9 pts) in his career, dumps Denmark left wing NICHLAS HARDT (44) of Finnish elite league club Jokerit Helsinki, the developing 24-year-old who has appeared at the past five IIHF World Championships (32 ga, 8 go, 11 pts), during the closing contest of the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group F Qualification Tournament at the Syd Energi Arena in Vojens.
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In keeping with the overall theme of an Olympic debacle, the Disciplinary Committee of the International Ice Hockey Federation announced in early March that Belarus right wing ALEXEI MIKHALEV has been issued a provisional suspension after testing positive for a banned substance during the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group F Qualification Tournament in Vojens, Denmark.

The Dynamo Minsk veteran was founded to have the stimulant “methylhexaneamine” in his sample submitted to IIHF officials at the conclusion of the Belarus v Ukraine match on February 8, 2013.

Mikhalev is now barred from all club and international competition until the IIHF Disciplinary Committee completes a standard review and issues a final decision on the player’s punishment.

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President Lukashenko – “Ashamed Of Belarusian Ice Hockey”


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“I am ashamed of the Belarusian ice hockey,” the country’s all-powerful head of state, PRESIDENT ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, explained, as reported by the Belarusian Telegraph Agency and other outlets, during a recent visit to the Minsk Bakery in the wake of the recently-completed XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group F Qualification Tournament in Vojens, Denmark.

“The fact that the Belarusian ice hockey team failed to qualify for the (2014) Olympic Games is a shame. Dynamo Minsk is the country’s richest club, where players earn decent money. I am embarrassed not only to talk but even to hear how Dynamo Minsk play,” stated a deeply disappointed Lukashenko, the former Soviet Red Army officer and collective farm director who has held the highest political office in Belarus since 1994.

“Next week, I will have a meeting with the newly-appointed ‘troika’: Sport Minister, Aide to the President and First Vice President of the National Olympic Committee. I will ask them to give their assessment of the situation and what they have done to rectify it. The performance of the national ice hockey team was totally bad. We will deal with this issue soon. I am not going to leave it without attention. All have been warned,” promised Lukashenko, who, back in December of 1991, had been the only Deputy in the Supreme Council of the Republic of Belarus to vote against the Belavezha Accords that dissolved the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

“Some coaches get Br70 million per month, or more, and produce no results,” remarked an irritated Lukashenko, who also later added, “Apparently, our sports functionaries are either incapable or unwilling to do their job. We should thoroughly shake it up and revitalize it (the entire national sports industry).”

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Belarus center MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI (84) of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the skilled 29-year-old National Hockey League veteran who has now represented his country at seven major international tournaments (44 ga, 15 go, 37 pts) in his career to date, positions himself in front of Russia goaltender ILYA BRYZGALOV of the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes during the tense 2009 IIHF World Championships quarterfinal contest at the PostFinance Arena in Bern, Switzerland, which the Russians ultimately won 4-3 on the strength of a third period goal by Atlanta Thrashers left wing Ilya Kovalchuk.
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If only for the time being, the jobs of national team trainer ANDREI SKABELKA and top assistant ALEXANDER ANDRIEVSKY, the former USSR national team forward who later skated one game in the National Hockey League for the Chiacgo Black Hawks and represented Belarus at both the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympic Games, are secure. At least until the conclusion of the 2013 IIHF World Championships to be held in Scandinavia this spring, that is. This was confirmed by in a public statement made by EVGENY VORSIN, the head of the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation, at a meeting of the BIHF executive committee on the heels of the Olympic debacle in Denmark.

The criticism from Lukashenko is not necessarily without any merit considering the results over the past decade or so. To review, Belarus pulled off one of the more spectacular upsets in the entire history of the Olympic ice hockey competition, itself, when Andrievsky and company shocked Sweden 4-3 at the quarterfinal stage of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games at Salt Lake City. But, with their elimination at Vojens, however, the Belarusians have now noticeably failed to qualify for two of the last three final Olympic tournaments.

Skabelka, the former CSKA Moscow prospect who later appeared at eight major international tournaments (45 ga, 6 go, 26 pts) including both the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympic Games, is only the tenth different coach in the last thirteen years to be installed as the national team trainer of Belarus. Among those to have held the position in the recent past include two Canadian legionnaires who both had lenghty careers in the National Hockey League, goaltender GLEN HANLON as well as tough guy CURT FRASER. First-year Finnish import KARI HEIKKILA was fired last spring after steering Belarus to but a single victory (over fellow former Soviet republic Kazakhstan) in seven attempts at the 2012 IIHF World Championships in Scandinavia.

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With the national government having openly invested an enormous amount of money specifically with the aim of developing of domestic ice hockey in the last few years with eyes towards not only the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia but the 2014 IIHF World Championships to be hosted by Belarus, as well, the fact that an authoritarian Lukashenko was ready to crack the whip could not have been any less startling.

“We lost to whom? Slovenia! They have 700 (senior) players across the entire country, there isn’t (even) a decent domestic championship. We lost against this reality. It is necessary to think and to find the answers to these questions,” growled a dissatisfied Lukashenko.

When asked about the financing of the national sports industry (i.e., the high levels of government spending), the President of Belarus stated that there are no valid reasons to alter the current policies already in place and that all matters with respect to results revolve around the distribution of funds, according to the Belarusian Telegraph Agency.

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Belarus right wing ALEXEI UGAROV (18) of Russian Kontinental Hockey League club Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, the experienced 27-year-old veteran who has already represented his country at nine major international tournaments (55 ga, 12 go, 22 pts) including the 2010 Winter Olympic Games at Vancouver, battles in front of the net with Slovenia center JAN URBAS (26) of Swedish second division side HC Vaxjo Lakers.

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Switzerland 3 – Belarus 2 : Match Report

Switzerland's ROMANO LEMM (67) puts the game-winning penalty-shot past Belarus goaltender ANDREI MEZIN in the quarterfinal qualification round of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. Switzerland defeated Belarus 3-2 in the shootout following ten minutes of overtime. It was Lemm who had levied the winner against Norway in Switzerland's prior match. (Jukka Rautio/HHOF-IIHF Images)

Switzerland's ROMANO LEMM (67) puts the game-winning penalty-shot past Belarus goaltender ANDREI MEZIN in the quarterfinal qualification round of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. Switzerland defeated Belarus 3-2 in the shootout following ten minutes of overtime. It was Lemm who had levied the winner against Norway in Switzerland's prior match. (Jukka Rautio/HHOF-IIHF Images)

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Anyone familiar with the match history of BELARUS and SWITZERLAND could have guessed what to expect for the quarterfinal qualification clash at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver — a very low-scoring affair to be decided by a single goal.

Indeed, three of the past four contests between Belarus and Switzerland at major international tournaments prior to the meeting in Vancouver had produced three-goal games; the other match was a 2-0 result.

Switzerland had won four of the past five encounters at the majors, including a 2-1 victory over the Belarussians at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Oddly enough at Salt Lake City, however, it was Belarus and not the Swiss who advanced out of Group B in the preliminary round into the final Olympic tournament. Belarus went on to claim Sweden’s scalp in the quarterfinals, of course.

So with this background was the puck dropped for the first of the four quarterfinal qualification matches in Vancouver and, against the percentages of history, a goal was promptly scored.

From his own defensive zone, Belarus rearguard VIKTOR KOSTYUCHENOK of Spartak Moscow sent a home run pass to ALEXEI KALYUZHNY of Dynamo Moscow at the Switzerland blueline. Although the pass was dead on, Kalyuzhny allowed the vulcanized rubber to get away from his stick and run straight in on Swiss goaltender JONAS HILLER of the Anaheim Ducks. Hiller had plenty of time and space to eat the biscuit, but somehow permitted the puck bounce off his goalstick nevertheless.

Kalyuzhny swooped in for a backhand attempt which was saved by Hiller, but the Swiss goalie lost sight of the puck in underneath his pads. The heavily experienced and obviously alert Belarus forward, despite losing his balance, dove head first and stabbed the disc through Hiller’s pads into the net. Switzerland protested but to no avail; Belarus were in front 1-0 after just 59 seconds. 

The Swiss leveled matters at the 12:25 mark of the first period after Kalyuzhny had been sent to the box for Belarus. Minnesota Wild draft pick JULIEN SPRUNGER of HC Fribourg-Gotteron scored a pretty goal on the power play for his second tally in two games for Switzerland. Sprunger swatted a puck mid-air past Belarus goaltender ANDREI MEZIN after storming down the middle of the slot to receive a pass from Ottawa Senators draft pick ROMAN WICK of EHC Kloten. 

Switzerland, who had posted a 16-7 edge in shots-on-goal for the opening period, went to their first lead of the contest seven minutes into the second period, again on the power play.

Canadian-born HNAT DOMENICHELLI of HC Lugano scored his first goal of the 2010 Vancouver Games after a shot from the point by Swiss captain MARK STREIT of the New York Islanders changed directions a few times and found the former National Hockey Leaguer alone all in front. Experienced Belarussian defenseman and captain RUSLAN SALEI, who had himself scored Belarus’ game-winning-goal versus Germany, appeared to lose track of the 33-year-old veteran Domenichelli.

Despite being outshot 26-11, however, Belarus held the fort in large part due to the efforts of the 35-year-old Mezin in net. The veteran netminder, who had played 59 games for Belarus at eleven major international tournaments heading into Vancouver, was preferred by national team coach MIKHAIL ZAKHAROV over VITALI KOVAL, who had kicked out 37 shots in the 5-3 win over Germany. Making his 14th career start at his third Winter Olympic Games, Mezin would ultimately finish with 40 saves for Belarus.

Accustomed to being under pressure at these Vancouver Games, the Belarussians again counterattacked for the tying goal with 4:18 remaining in the second period. Belarus again profited from a fortuitous bounce. Defenseman NIKOLAI STASENKO of Russian club Amur Khabarovsk sent a wrist shot from the point goal-bound which ricocheted off Belarus forward ALEXEI UGAROV of Russian club HK MVD Balashikha straight to the Belarus coach’s son all alone at the side of the net.     

KONSTANTIN ZAKHAROV of Dynamo Minsk, former farmhard of the St. Louis Blues, gleefully shot the puck into the wide open net to boost Belarus to a 2-2 draw.

What followed was more than half a game (34:12 to be precise) of shutout hockey delivered by the two goaltenders Hiller and Mezin. And so a shootout was necessary to determine who should advance to the quarterfinal round to face the United States in the quarterfinal round proper. 

THOMAS DERUNS of HC Servette Geneva and ROMANO LEMM of HC Lugano both achieved success with Switzerland’s first two penalty-shot attempts.

DMITRI MELESHKO of Dynamo Minsk gave Belarus hope, particularly after Mezin denied Swiss forward IVO RUTHEMANN of SC Bern.

But Hiller halted SERGEI KOSTITSYN and, thus, Switzerland survived to skate another day at the ice hockey tournament at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. 

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SWITZERLAND 3 – BELARUS 2 — (aet, shootout)

Shots-on-goal :  Switzerland 42 – Belarus 22

SWITZ goals :  Sprunger, Domenichelli

BLR goals :  Kalyuzhny, Zakharov

Shootout :

SWITZ —  Deruns (1/1), Lemm (1/1), Ruthemann (0/1)

BLR —  Antonenko (0/1), Meleshko (1/1), S. Kostitsyn (0/1)

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Belarus forward ALEXEI KALYUZHNY (71) backhands his shot after Switzerland goaltender JONAS HILLER (1) mishandled the puck in the opening minute of play. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

Belarus forward ALEXEI KALYUZHNY (71) backhands his shot after Switzerland goaltender JONAS HILLER (1) mishandled the puck in the opening minute of play. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

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The veteran international Kalyuzhny (71) pokes the puck past the Swiss goaltender Hiller to give Belarus an early 1-0 lead. Unable to stop Belarus’ all-time leading scorer at major international events are Switzerland skaters SEVERIN BLINDENBACHER (5), ANDRES AMBUEHL (10) and LUCA SBISA (47). Looking on for Belarus is KONSTANTIN KOLTSOV (28), the former 1999 first round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penquins. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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Montreal Canadiens forward SERGEI KOSTITSYN (74) arrives to plead the case of Belarus as the Swiss goaltender Hiller lodges his protests with the referee. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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All eyes look to the referee; the veteran Belarussian international Kalyuzhny of Kontinental Hockey League club Dynamo Moscow is convinced he has scored. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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Kalyuzhny has scored and in the process collects his third goal of the 2010 Vancouver Games and 13th career goal for Belarus at major tournaments. Kalyuzhny, totals from Vancouver included, is the all-time leader in both assists (21) and points (34) for the Belarussian national team. (Matt Slocum/AP)

Kalyuzhny has scored and in the process collects his third goal of the 2010 Vancouver Games and 13th career goal for Belarus at major tournaments. Kalyuzhny, totals from Vancouver included, is the all-time leader in both assists (21) and points (34) for the Belarussian national team. (Matt Slocum/AP)

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to be continued…

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Belarus 5 – Germany 3 : Match Report

Belarus forward ALEXEI UGAROV (18) beats German goaltender THOMAS GREISS (1) on the backhand after a fine defensive play and solo rush. Unable to do anything about Ugarov is German defenseman CHRISTOPHER SCHMIDT (7). (Matthew Manor/HHOF-IIHF Images)

Belarus forward ALEXEI UGAROV (18) beats German goaltender THOMAS GREISS (1) on the backhand after a fine defensive play and solo rush. Unable to do anything about Ugarov is German defenseman CHRISTOPHER SCHMIDT (7). (Matthew Manor/HHOF-IIHF Images)

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BELARUS took full advantage of its limted opportunities versus GERMANY in the final Group C round-robin match for both sides from which both national teams desperately needed points for the overall Olympic standings.

Germany finally scored a goal after more than 125 minutes of play at this year’s 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. Florida Panthers defenseman DENNIS SEIDENBERG finished off a quick passing play involving Boston Bruin MARCO STURM and Nashville Predator MARCEL GOC on the power play early in the contest with Belarus for an early 1-0 German lead.

But it was Belarus forward ALEXEI UGAROV of Russian club HK MVD Balashikha who showed killer instinct after blocking the shot of German defenseman MICHAEL BAKOS at the point. Ugarov collected the puck and raced the length of the ice to confront and conquer German goaltender THOMAS GREISS of the San Jose Sharks on the backhand to tie the game a little past halfway through the first period.  

Germany would hold a 14-5 edge for shots on goal in the second stanza, nevertheless, it was forward ALEXEI KALUZHNY, Belarus’ all-time leading scorer at major international tournaments heading into Vancouver (57 ga, 10 go 20 as, 30 pts), who tallied against the run of play with a fine individual effort on the rush into the German zone at 8:36 for the period’s only score.

Montreal Canadiens forward SERGEI KOSTITSYN, who was involved in four of five Belarus goals on the night, doubled the margin on the scoreboard with roughly nine minutes remaining in the game. The 22-year-old, whose older brother Andrei was put out action with a knee injury on the eve of the Olympics, beat Greiss with a laser wrist shot from the slot following another quick counterattack from the Belarussians.

The Germans, however, did attempt to stage a late Saturday night comeback (which, by this time, was actually very early Sunday morning for the blog author here) in a match that saw coach UWE KRUPP’s charges manage 40 shots on the Belarus goal.

Former National Hockey Leaguer JOHN TRIPP, a native Canadian, whacked a loose puck in the slot past Belarus goalie VITALI KOVAL of Dynamo Minsk to breathe new life into Germany; current NHLer Goc lifted the Germans into a 3-3 tie with a puck over Koval’s shoulder on the rebound after his wrap-around attempt with a little less than eight minutes to play.

But Greiss, it must be said, did not give Germany the quality goaltending on the night that it had received from him in the match against Sweden.

Veteran Colorado Avalanche defenseman RUSLAN SALEI, competing at his third Winter Olympic Games, blew a shot from the point past Greiss on the power play five and half minutes from time. 

And Kalyuzhny, the 32-year-old forward from Russian club Dynamo Moscow, killed any last German hope with a wrist shot from the top of the left circle, again on the counterattack, with just 1:15 left.

For Belarus, considering the absence of Toronto Maple Leaf MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI and Montreal Canadien ANDREI KOSTITSYN, not to mention the lopsided shots-on-goal total, it was, by all means, a spectactular result.

For Germany it was a disappointment and as well as a wasted opportunity.

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BELARUS 5 – GERMANY 3

Shots-on-goal :  Germany 40 – Belarus 17

LR goals :  Kalyuzhny 2, Ugarov, S. Kostitsyn, Salei

GER goals :  Seidenberg, Tripp, Goc

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German forward ANDRE RANKEL (24) of Eisbaeren Berlin rams Belarussian defenseman ANDREI KAREV (33) of Dynamo Minsk at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. (AP photo)

German forward ANDRE RANKEL (24) of Eisbaeren Berlin rams Belarussian defenseman ANDREI KAREV (33) of Dynamo Minsk at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. (AP photo)

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The Belarssian defender Karev has his revenge and crunches Germany’s MARCEL MUELLER of EC Koeln along the boards in Vancouver. (Reuters photo)

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Germany’s MICHAEL WOLF (16) of ECD Iserlohn has his forward progress obstructed by Belarussian defensman ALEXANDER MAKRITSKY of Dynamo Minsk. (Reuters photo)

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The game's first two goal-scorers, Germany's DENNIS SEIDENBERG (84) and ALEXEI UGAROV (18) of Belarus, meet in front of German goaltender THOMAS GREISS (1) in Vancouver. (Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images)

The game's first two goal-scorers, Germany's DENNIS SEIDENBERG (84) and ALEXEI UGAROV (18) of Belarus, meet in front of German goaltender THOMAS GREISS (1) in Vancouver. (Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images)

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Defenseman DENNIS SEIDENBERG (84) celebrates the game's first goal and Germany's first goal of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games with MARCEL GOC (57) and JOCHEN HECHT (17) in Vancouver. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Defenseman DENNIS SEIDENBERG (84) celebrates the game's first goal and Germany's first goal of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games with MARCEL GOC (57) and JOCHEN HECHT (17) in Vancouver. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Belarus forward ALEXEI UGAROV (18), after a fine solo rush, goes to the backhand to beat THOMAS GREISS (1) in the German goal to tie the game in the first period. (AP photo)

Belarus forward ALEXEI UGAROV (18), after a fine solo rush, goes to the backhand to beat THOMAS GREISS (1) in the German goal to tie the game in the first period. (AP photo)

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(Matt Slocum/AP photo)

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(Reuters photo)

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ALEXEI UGAROV trips triumphantly after tying the score for Belarus in the opening period against Germany. (AP photo)

ALEXEI UGAROV trips triumphantly after tying the score for Belarus in the opening period against Germany. (AP photo)

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to be continued…

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Sweden 4 – Belarus 2 : Match Report

Vancouver Canuck DANIEL SEDIN (22, left) shoots the puck into the right hand corner of Belarus netminder ANDREI MEZIN's goal to send Sweden in front 1-0 at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada. (Jukka Rautio/HHOF-IIHF Images)

Vancouver Canuck DANIEL SEDIN (22, left) shoots the puck into the right hand corner of Belarus netminder ANDREI MEZIN's goal to send Sweden in front 1-0 at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada. (Jukka Rautio/HHOF-IIHF Images)

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If anyone on SWEDEN’s bench in the third period against BELARUS in Vancouver today had got to thinking of the Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City Games eight years ago, that would be understandable.

Had Belarus forward ALEXEI UGAROV of Russian club HK MVD Balashikha not hit the post late in the latter half of the third period with the Belarussians trailing by a single goal, no one could say for sure how matters might have ended.

Despite a late charge by Belarus, however, there would be no repeat of 2002 for the defending Olympic gold medalists from Sweden.

DANIEL SEDIN of the Olympic host city’s Vancouver Canucks shot Sweden ahead roughly seven minutes in; long-time Ottawa Senator DANIEL ALFREDSSON added a second for Tre Kronor with nine minutes expired in a first period that saw Sweden amass a 17-6 advantage in shots-on-goal.

Detroit Red Wing forward JOHAN FRANZEN, recovered from ACL surgery this past fall, fashioned a goal nine and a half minutes into the second period to extend Sweden’s lead to 3-0.

“I’m happy for the win, we played a good first period,” Swedish coach BENGT GUSTAFSSON stated after the match. “Then we got overconfident and started to cut corners a bit, and tried to find the easy way out instead of paying the price for scoring goals.”

Dynamo Minsk forward ALEXANDER KULAKOV corraled a loose puck and, with Swedish goaltender JONAS GUSTAVSSON of the Toronto Maple Leafs on his back, lifted Belarus with a goal 14:40 into the second period.

This was Sweden’s first goal surrendered at the 2010 Winter Olympics in 94:40 of play at the Vancouver Games.

Nevertheless, the Swedes finished the second still with a commanding 31-13 lead in shots.

The Belarussians saved their best hockey for the final period and played the Swedes even over the last twenty minutes. DMITRI MELESHKO, also of Dynamo Minsk, netted a rebound courtesy a Kulakov shot with eight and a half minutes remaining to set the stage for a tense finish, which was punctuated by Ugarov’s clanking of the iron.

The 37-year-old Alfredsson, at his fourth Winter Olympics tournament, ended the drama with his second goal against Belarus and Dynamo Minsk goaltender ANDREI MEZIN ten seconds from full time to set the final score at 4-2 for Sweden.

With that goal, Andersson moved past Swedish legend, MATS NASLUND, a.k.a. The Little Viking, into eighth place on Sweden’s all-time scoring list at major international tournaments.

Andersson, who has appeared at 12 tournaments for Tre Kronor, now totals 28 goals and 67 points in his career. Ten of those goals for Sweden have come at the Winter Olympic Games.

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SWEDEN 4 – BELARUS 2

Shots-on-goal :  Sweden 39 – Belarus 18

SWE goals :  Alfredsson 2, D. Sedin, Franzen

BLR goals :  Kulakov, Meleshko

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Sweden’s DANIEL SEDIN (22) prepares to shoot the puck as Belarussian defenseman SERGEI KOLOSOV (25) and forward ANDREI MIKHALEV (8) are tangled up in front of goaltender ANDREI MEZIN at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. (Molly Riley/Reuters)

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Sweden stake the early 1-0 advantage over Belarus thru DANIEL SEDIN (22) of the host city’s National Hockey League team, the Vancouver Canucks. (Matt Slocum/AP Photo)

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Mezin makes one on his 34 saves for Belarus with Sweden’s PATRIC HORNQVIST (27) of the Nashville Predators lurking in front. (Matt Slocum/AP)

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Swedish goaltender JONAS GUSTAVSSON lies flat on his back as Belarussian forwards ANDREI STAS (26) and ALEXANDER KULAKOV (11) boast the game’s first goal for Belarus in the second period. (Matt Slocum/AP)

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Alfredsson ends the drama for Sweden with his second goal of the game with ten seconds remaining. (AP Photo)

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Sweden's DANIEL ALFREDSSON (11) set to celebrate as Belarussian defensemen RUSLAN SALEI (24) and VIKTOR KOSTYUCHENOK (43) already feel the frustration. (AP Photo)

Sweden's DANIEL ALFREDSSON (11) set to celebrate as Belarussian defensemen RUSLAN SALEI (24) and VIKTOR KOSTYUCHENOK (43) already feel the frustration. (AP Photo)

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Finland 5 – Belarus 1 : Match Report

NIKLAS HAGMAN (10), the son of the first Finnish player to ever skate in the National Hockey League, celebrates the first of his two goals with MIKKO KOIVU (9) and JANNE NISKALA (21) during Finland's 5-1 victory over Belarus at the 2010 Vancouver Games. (Jukka Rautio/HHOF-IIHF Images)

NIKLAS HAGMAN (10), the son of the first Finnish player to ever skate in the National Hockey League, celebrates the first of his two goals with MIKKO KOIVU (9) and JANNE NISKALA (21) during Finland's 5-1 victory over Belarus at the 2010 Vancouver Games. (Jukka Rautio/HHOF-IIHF Images)

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Calgary Flames wing NIKLAS HAGMAN had a pair of goals and Minnesota Wild center MIKKO KOIVU contributed three assists as FINLAND easily flew past BELARUS 5-1 in the Group B opener at the ice hockey tournament of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada.

A little less than three and a half minutes into the contest, New York Ranger OLLI JOKINEN swept home Anaheim Duck SAKU KOIVU’s centering pass for a 1-0 Finnish lead on a pretty power play goal started by Koivu’s club teammate, TEEMU SELANNE. The veteran international Selanne, wearing a shield to protect his fractured jaw, boosted his total at the Olympics to 36 points from 26 career matches at the Winter Games. Selanne is chasing all-time Olympic leader VLASTIMIL BUBNIK of Czechoslovakia and his mark of 39 points (including ‘qualification’ games).

Finland’s dominance was best evidenced by the first period 17-2 shots-on-goal total and, for the contest, coach JUKKA JALONEN’s troops ended with a wide 45-12 margin over Belarus.

Montreal Canadien SERGEI KOSTITSYN gave Belarus some brief hope just twenty-one seconds into the middle period courtesy a giveaway by Finnish defenseman LASSE KUKKONEN of Russian club Avangard Omsk. A quick centering pass from SERGEI DEMAGIN allowed Kostitsyn to cut Finland’s lead to 2-1. Belarus did upset Finland in a shootout at last year’s World Championships in Zurich.

However, a second goal from Hagman on the backhand, a strike from his knees after a fine deke move in front of net, restored a two-goal Finnish advantage late in the second period. Belarus, clearly missing injured NHL players ANDREI KOSTITSYN and MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI, would only muster yet another pair of shots-on-goal for the middle frame despite brave work from VITALI KOVAL in the Belarussian net.

Detroit Red Wing VALTERRI FILPPULA’s rebound goal twenty-three seconds into the third period effectively settled matters although Ottawa Senator JARKKO RUUTU added a fifth goal for Finland with a fabulous deflection seven minutes from full time.

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FINLAND 5 – BELARUS 1

Shots-on-goal :  Finland 45 – Belarus 12

FIN goals :  Hagman 2, Jokinen, Filppula, J. Ruutu

BLR goals :  S. Kostitsyn

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Belarus goalie VITALI KOVAL of Dynamo Minsk keeps his eye on the puck as defenseman NIKOLAI STASENKO (5) of Russian club Amur Khabarovsk sandwichs Finland forward NIKLAS HAGMAN (10) of the Calgary Flames in front of the net at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

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Finnish forward NIKLAS HAGMAN (10) is crunched against the boards by Belarussian defenseman SERGEI KOLOSOV (25), a Detroit Red Wings farmhand with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League, at the Vancouver Games. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Finnish forward NIKLAS HAGMAN (10) is crunched against the boards by Belarussian defenseman SERGEI KOLOSOV (25), a Detroit Red Wings farmhand with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League, at the Vancouver Games. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Veteran Finnish forward OLLI JOKINEN (12) shields the puck from Belarussian forward SERGEI ZADELENOV (22) as he rounds the net at the Winter Olympics. Jokinen, 31, made his 101st appearance for Finland at a major international event in the Group C opener against Belarus at the Vancouver Games. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) 

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VITALI KOVAL in the Belarussian net following OLLI JOKINEN’s opening goal for Finland in the first period of the first match of the 2010 Vancouver Games for both nations. (Scott Audette/Reuters)

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MIKKO KOIVU (9), NIKLAS HAGMAN, JANNE NISKALA, and TUOMO RUUTU (15) all congregate after Hagman handed Finland a 2-0 over Belarus lead in the first period of the Group C opening round match in Vancouver. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) 

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Belarus forward ALEXEI UGAROV (18) looks to play the puck as rearguard JONI PITKANEN (25) and goaltender MIIKKA KIPRUSOFF (34) defend for Finland at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. (Scott Audette/Reuters)

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The all-time leading scorer at major international events for Belarus, ALEXEI KALYUZHNY of Dynamo Moscow, congratulates SERGEI KOSTITSYN (74) of the Montreal Canadiens on his first career goal at a major international tournament for his country at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The all-time leading scorer at major international events for Belarus, ALEXEI KALYUZHNY of Dynamo Moscow, congratulates SERGEI KOSTITSYN (74) of the Montreal Canadiens on his first career goal at a major international tournament for his country at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Finland’s VALTTERI FILPPULA (51) follows the puck as Belarus goalie VITALI KOVAL completes the save. Chopping the Detroit Red Wing forward’s shin with his stick is Belarussian forward SERGEI DEMAGIN (59) of Russian club Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk. Filppula scored a third period goal on the rebound in the Group C opener at Vancouver. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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The lightning quick strike of Filppula (51) beats Koval to open the third period and give Finland a commanding 4-1 lead over Belarus at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver. (Getty Images photo)

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Finnish goal-scoring forward JARKKO RUUTU (37) of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators is greeted by defenseman LASSE KUKKONEN (5) of Russian club Avangard Omsk and veteran forward VILLE PELTONEN (16) of Belarussian club Dynamo Minsk late in the third period after Ruutu set the final score at 5-1 Finland over Belarus in Vancouver. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Belarus vs Finland – Match History

MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI of Belarus pushes the puck past Finland's PEKKA RINNE (35) in a shootout at the 2009 IIHF World Championships in Zurich, Switzerland. Belarus upended Finland 2-1 in sudden-death. Grabovski of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who fractured his wrist shortly after the New Year, was withdrawn from the Belarus Olympic team for the 2010 Vancouver Games.

MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI of Belarus pushes the puck past Finland's PEKKA RINNE (35) in a shootout at the 2009 IIHF World Championships in Zurich, Switzerland. Belarus upended Finland 2-1 in sudden-death. Grabovski of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who fractured his wrist shortly after the New Year, was withdrawn from the Belarus Olympic team for the 2010 Vancouver Games.

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Match history at major international tournaments :

BELARUS — versus — FINLAND

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First meeting — 12 years ago — 1998 in Basel, Switzerland

Overall record — Finland 4 — Belarus 1

Winter Olympics record — Finland 1 — Belarus 0

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  • 1998 — WC – Basel —————— 5-2 – Finland
  • 1999 — WC – Oslo ——————- 4-1 – Finland
  • 2002 — OG – Salt Lake City ——- 8-1 – Finland
  • 2006 — WC – Riga ——————– 3-0 – Finland
  • 2009 — WC – Zurich —————— 2-1 – Belarus

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Belarus : Knee Surgery For Kostitsyn

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TSN.CA is reporting Montreal Canadiens forward ANDREI KOSTITSYN underwent knee surgery today and is expected to be out of action six weeks for the National Hockey League club.

This development raises serious concern about the 24-year-old’s physical fitness for the Belarus national team competing at 2010 Winter Olympic Games this February in Vancouver.

Kostitsyn has 12 goals and 25 points in 40 games for Montreal in the NHL this season and is an up and coming player for Belarus having already appeared at four major international events (19 ga, 4 go 5 as, 9 pts), not including his B pool outing (5 ga, 3 go 3 as, 6 pts) in 2004.

Kostitsyn, who has scored 61 goals the past two and a half National Hockey League seasons for the Montreal Canadiens, is just one three NHL forwards on the Belarus roster for national team coach MIKHAIL ZAKHAROV. 

Andrei’s younger brother Sergei, who plays for the Montreal Canadiens, as well, is also on the 2010 Belarus Olympic squad.

Final registration of Olympic rosters is slated for February 15, the day before the start of the ice hockey tournament. At that time, the rosters become final and no substitutions will be allowed under any circumstances.

BELARUS begin their Olympic program on February 17 opposite FINLAND in Group B round-robin play at Vancouver.

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Belarus 2010 Olympic squad selection MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI of the Toronto Maple Leafs (42 ga, 7 go 18 as, 25 pts) is also on the shelf in the National Hockey League with a fractured wrist.

Grabovski was injured last Saturday and was originally projected to miss six weeks. His return, barring setbacks, should coincide with the opening of the Winter Games.

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Belarus Need Salei’s Back

Belarusian defender RUSLAN SALEI (24) struggles with his opposite number in red, Russian forward ALEXANDER FROLOV, in the quarterfinals at the 2009 IIHF World Championships in Switzerland. Both players are Western Division rivals in the National Hockey League. Frolov was not selected by Russia for the Vancvouver Games; time will tell if Salei's back obliges for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Belarusian defender RUSLAN SALEI (24) struggles with his opposite number in red, Russian forward ALEXANDER FROLOV, in the quarterfinals at the 2009 IIHF World Championships in Switzerland. Both players are Western Division rivals in the National Hockey League. Frolov was not selected by Russia for the Vancvouver Games; time will tell if Salei's back obliges for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

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There are a host of players whose fitness is still in question as the 2010 Winter Olympic Games continues to draw near — within six weeks now, as a matter of fact.

While some countries, such as Russia or Canada, have a seemingly endless supply of internationally-experienced and/or NHL players on which to call, other nations such as Germany and Norway simply have more limited resources in terms of possible talent to ice.

Whereas Pavol Demitra of Slovakia and Peter Forsberg of Sweden both certainly bring lots to their respective national teams’ tables, there is probably no other player currently injured that is of more value to his national side than defenseman RUSLAN SALEI of BELARUS.

Salei has played all of one game for the Colorado Avalanche this season. After missing the first two games of this season with the flu, the 35-year-old rearguard injured his back on October 8. Following setbacks, the veteran of 828 NHL games finally underwent surgery in early December.

The Denver Post reported earlier in this week that Salei could begin “skating soon”.

Salei, the first round pick (# 9 overall) of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 1996, is a two-time Olympian and has scored three goals in 13 games at the Winter Games for Belarus in addition to providing a customary physical presence on defense.

Leadership, however, would be the big loss for Belarus national team boss MIKHAIL ZAKHAROV should Salei not be able to participate at the Vancouver Games.

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BELARUS : Olympic Roster Released

Belarus forward ALEXEI UGAROV (18), left, and defenseman VLADIMIR DENISOV (7), right, fish for the puck in the skates of teammate VIKTOR KOSTYUCHENOK (43) as goalie ANDREI MEZIN and forward ANDREI STAS (23) await in the quarterfinal round of the 2009 IIHF World Championships in Switzerland. The names of all five players appear on the Olympic roster released by the Belarus Ice Hockey Federation Dec 23.

Belarus forward ALEXEI UGAROV (18), left, and defenseman VLADIMIR DENISOV (7), right, fish for the puck in the skates of teammate VIKTOR KOSTYUCHENOK (43) as goalie ANDREI MEZIN and forward ANDREI STAS (23) await in the quarterfinal round of the 2009 IIHF World Championships in Switzerland. The names of all five players appear on the Olympic roster released by the Belarus Ice Hockey Federation Dec 23.

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BELARUS national team — 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Vancouver

Coach — Mikhail ZAKHAROV

Goaltenders

  • 11 app – 59 ga — 35 – Andrei MEZIN — Dynamo Minsk
  • 2 app —– 8 ga — 29 – Vitali KOVAL — Dynamo Minsk
  • 0 app —– 0 ga — 21 – Maxim MALYUTIN — HC Vitebsk

Defensemen

  • 7 app – 38 ga — 35 – Ruslan SALEI — COLORADO
  • 4 app – 26 ga — 30 – Viktor KOSTYUCHENOK — Spartak Moscow
  • 4 app – 23 ga — 25 – Vladimir DENISOV — Dynamo Minsk
  • 3 app – 16 ga — 27 – Andrei BASHKO — Dynamo Minsk
  • 1 app — 7 ga — 24 – Andrei ANTONOV — Dynamo Minsk
  • 0 app — 0 ga — 22 – Nikolai STASENKO — Amur Khabarovsk
  • 0 app — 0 ga — 23 – Vadim SUSHKO — Shakhter Soligorsk
  • 0 app — 0 ga — 21 – Alexander SYREI — Shakhter Soligorsk

Forwards

  • 9 app – 57 ga — 32 – Alexei KALYUZHNY — Dynamo Moscow
  • 9 app – 52 ga — 38 – Oleg ANTONENKO — Dynamo Minsk
  • 5 app – 32 ga — 24 – Alexei UGAROV — HK MVD Balashikha
  • 5 app – 31 ga — 33 – Sergei ZADELENOV — Dynamo Minsk
  • 7 app – 31 ga — 28 – Konstantin KOLTSOV — Salavat Yulayev Ufa
  • 5 app – 27 ga — 31 – Andrei MIKHALEV — Dynamo Minsk
  • 4 app – 25 ga — 25 – Mikhail GRABOVSKI — TORONTO
  • 4 app – 19 ga — 24 – Andrei KOSTITSYN — MONTREAL
  • 3 app – 18 ga — 26 – Alexander KULAKOV — Shakhter Soligorsk
  • 2 app – 10 ga — 23 – Sergei DEMAGIN — Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk
  • 1 app — 7 ga — 21 – Andrei STAS — Dynamo Moscow
  • 1 app — 4 ga — 22 – Sergei KOSTITSYN — MONTREAL

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Former Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings coach DAVE LEWIS as well as one-time USSR and Russian international ANDREI KHOMUTOV serve as the assistants for Belarus coach Mikhail ZAKHAROV.

Zakharov, who was the top goal scorer at the 1980 IIHF European Junior Championships for the former Soviet Union, accepted the Belarus national team job in November after one-time Vancouver Canucks goalie GLEN HANLON resigned in the wake of his firing as coach of Kontinental Hockey League club Dynamo Minsk.

“It does not mean that those hockey players that are on this list will definitely go to Vancouver,” stated Zakharov via the Belarus Ice Hockey Federation website. “So it is not worth it to relax. For others, who did not get to this part, let this turn of events be an additional incentive to improve their game.”

NIKOLAI STASENKO, meanwhile, of KHL club Amur Khabarovsk in Russia is a big (6’5″ 223 lbs), physical defenseman who should have no trouble adapting to the smaller, NHL-size rink being used at the Olympics this year in Vancouver.

BELARUS played two exhibition games this past weekend in Europe, losing 4-2 to SLOVAKIA and defeating SWITZERLAND 2-1 in overtime.

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