International Ice Hockey Federation

Belarus has had better days

Belarus has had better days

Tough times this year, but fond memories abound

Published 15.05.2017 16:47 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Belarus has had better days
Belarusian players celebrate a goal during the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship on home ice in Minsk. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
International hockey fans easily recall Belarus’s greatest moment at the Olympics: upsetting Sweden 4-3 in 2002. But it’s had its Worlds highlights too.

Granted, 2017 hasn’t been a particularly glorious tournament for the former Soviet republic. Coach Dave Lewis’s squad has struggled to find success in Paris. After keeping it close in a 3-2 opening loss to 2016 silver medalist Finland, the Belarusians fell apart in a 6-1 defeat against the Czechs, and got blanked 6-0 by defending champion Canada and 3-0 by Switzerland. However, coming up with a 5-2 win over Slovenia at least booked Belarus’s ticket to the 2018 Worlds in Denmark.

Here’s a look back at the greatest years in Belarusian World Championship history.

1998: Welcome to the Worlds

Belarus made its top-division IIHF World Championship debut with a 4-2 win over Germany in Basle, Switzerland. Coach Anatoli Varivonchik couldn’t have been much happier. The Belarusians had also played their first Olympics in Nagano, Japan two months earlier, and maintained the good Asian vibes by downing Japan 6-4 in another group game. Finishing eight overall was nothing to sneeze at.

2000: What a Rush to Beat Russia!

For Russian fans, the 2000 tournament will always be remembered for their team’s ignominious 11th-place finish on home ice despite an all-star roster with Pavel Bure, Alexei Yashin, and Sergei Gonchar. But Belarusian fans cherish their nation’s first-ever win over the hosts in St. Petersburg. Vladimir Tsyplakov scored the 1-0 winner and Andrei Mezin made 31 saves for the shutout. “Mezin has played better and better for us every game,” said Tsyplakov.

2006: Sixth Place Is No Disgrace

This was a historic year as Belarus achieved its highest placement ever: sixth. Under Canadian coach Glen Hanlon, the team played with more confidence and better defensive positioning. 2-1 was the magic score. First, the team achieved its first victory ever over Slovakia, 2-1, with Oleg Antonenko potting the winner late in the second period. Then, a 2-1 win over Switzerland to end the qualifying round vaulted Belarus into the quarter-finals, where the Cinderella run ended with a 4-0 loss to Finland.

2009: More Mezin Magic

Only one Belarus player has ever been named a tournament all-star or Best Goalie: Andrei Mezin. The diminutive, hard-battling netminder recorded a 1.72 GAA and 94.7 save percentage in five games at the Worlds in Switzerland. His highlight was recording 44 saves and outdueling superstar Pekka Rinne as Belarus beat Finland for the first time ever. Oleg Antonenko had the 2-1 shootout winner in that game and also versus Slovakia, while the late Ruslan Salei scored in overtime to beat Norway 3-2. In 2017, Mezin serves as an assistant coach with the national team.

2014: Hosts at Long Last!

It wasn’t just a hockey tournament – it was one of the biggest events in Belarusian history. Belarus won the right to host the 2014 IIHF World Championship at the IIHF Congress in Switzerland in 2009, and the whole country was thrilled to see it kick off in Minsk. Expectations were high. With Volat, the official bison mascot, raising a ruckus on and off the ice, the Belarusians reeled off victories over Kazakhstan, Switzerland, Germany and Latvia to advance to the quarter-finals.

Even though they were eliminated with a 3-2 loss to Sweden and finished seventh, nothing could dim the glory of the all-time attendance record they set at Minsk Arena and Chizhovka Arena (640,044). It would stand until 2015, when the Czechs topped it (741,690). Meanwhile, Andrei Mezin set a record for goalies with his 13th top-level Worlds, a mark he now shares with Russia’s Vladislav Tretiak and France’s Cristobal Huet.

2015: Back to the Quarter-Finals

The highlight of this tournament in the Czech Republic was achieving the first win over the United States. Riding an exceptional performance by goalie Kevin Lalande and two goals by captain Alexei Kalyuzhny, Belarus marched to a 5-2 group victory. “They made mistakes in defence and we were able to take our chances,” said Sergei Kostitsyn. “It wasn’t that the USA was weak in defence, we were just stronger on offence.”

Like the year before, the Belarusians also defeated a string of second-tier opponents: Slovenia, Denmark, and Norway. And they secured valuable points in extra-time losses to Slovakia and Finland. In the quarter-finals, they succumbed 9-0 to eventual champion Canada, but earning another seventh-place finish was still above expectations.


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