International Ice Hockey Federation

Belarus hopes for the best

Belarus hopes for the best

Returning to quarter-finals may be tough

Published 04.05.2017 23:26 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Belarus hopes for the best
Belarus is seeking improvement after coming 12th at the 2016 Worlds in Russia. Photo: Minas Panagiotakis / HHOF-IIHF Images
After Belarus came seventh at both the 2014 and 2015 Worlds, last year’s 12th-place finish was disappointing. Can the Belarusians bounce back in Paris?

This former Soviet republic’s passion for hockey is beyond question. Belarus currently sits ninth in the IIHF World Ranking. In Minsk 2014, a new all-time attendance record was set with 640,044 spectators (topped by the Czech Republic in 2015 with 741,690). Belarus and Latvia are bidding jointly versus Finland to host the 2021 Worlds.

But the question is whether a national team that relies as heavily on veteran forwards as Belarus does can succeed at this year’s tournament, which is heavy on youth and speed. Stay tuned for an unpredictable journey through Group B.


Kevin Lalande is the likely starter for Belarus. The acrobatic 30-year-old Canadian, who has played six of his eight KHL seasons with Dynamo Minsk, is coming off a tough season. Injuries limited him to six regular season games (2.17 GAA, 89.3 save percentage) and one playoff game. Paris will offer an opportunity for redemption. Mikhail Karnaukhov will make his World Championship debut as the back-up after the 23-year-old played 23 games for Dinamo-Molodechno of the Belarus Extraleague (2.54 GAA, 89.3 save percentage). Karnaukhov also had four games with Dynamo Minsk (5.12 GAA, 75.0 save percentage). Goaltending may prove to be an Achilles heel for Belarus this year.


The Belarusians have a solid and mobile – if not spectacular – defence corps. Veteran KHLer Dmitri Korobov, who served as an assistant captain in 2015 and 2016, is playing in his seventh Worlds. Last year, the 28-year-old posted a team-worst -7 plus minus-rating while averaging a team-high 23:06 of ice time. Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Oleg Yevenko, who has spent the last two seasons in the AHL, is poised to bring physicality in his fourth consecutive World Championship.

Yevgeni Lisovets, 22, chipped in four assists last year in what was the Dynamo Minsk blueliner’s second Worlds. And it’ll be intriguing to see what kind of impact 21-year-old Kristian Khenkel, who played 52 games as a KHL rookie in Minsk, will make in his second go-round at this level. It will be tough for the Belarus rearguards to withstand the forechecking and counterattacking of the Canadians and Finns.


It might be hard to believe, but the NHL-experienced Kostitsyn brothers are both in their 30’s now. Both also captained KHL clubs this season, with 32-year-old Andrei (16-18-34) wearing the “C” in Sochi and 30-year-old Sergei (5-21-26) in Minsk. Maturity, poise, and focus will need to come into play as well as scoring ability for these forwards to have success.

Andrei Stepanov, who tied for the team lead in scoring (2-4-6) with Charles Linglet last year, was a surprise roster cut: the 31-year-old right wing, known for his splashy celebrations, fell afoul of the coaches for his defensive shortcomings. But who will make up for his scoring? Linglet, a naturalized Canadian from Montreal who played five games for the Edmonton Oilers in 2009-10, is back after splitting his season between Minsk, Tappara Tampere, and Eisbaren Berlin. If Andrei Stas can replicate his 2016 output, Belarus fans should be ecstatic. The veteran Minsk center potted five goals in seven games, including two in a 3-0 win over France that helped his team avoid relegation.

It’ll be offence by committee this year since there simply isn’t a game-breaker up front.


Dave Lewis won three Stanley Cups (1997, 1998, 2002) as an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings. The 63-year-old native of Kindersley, Saskatchewan also served as the head coach of the Wings in 2002-03 and 2003-04 and of the Boston Bruins in 2006-07. Before taking the reins with Belarus, he also went behind the Ukraine bench in an unsuccessful home-ice bid for promotion from Division I in 2011.

Lewis has always had a reputation as a good communicator. He recently told reporters in Belarus: “Honestly, I talk with our players after every practice. I want everyone to understand their role in the team.” That will be critical on this year’s team. Lewis has admitted that Belarus faces a monumental task in its first three group games against Finland, the Czech Republic, and Canada. There is a very real chance that Belarus will emerge with zero out of a possible nine points, and if the coach can’t maintain the confidence of his troops in the game plan (heavy on smart team defence), Belarus could wind up getting relegated for the first time since 2003.

Projected Results

It will be challenging to live up to expectations as the ninth-ranked team in the world. If Canada, Finland, and the Czech Republic all earn quarter-final berths, that leaves one spot in Group B up for grabs. The host French will be hugely motivated, as will the Swiss, who have underachieved since their 2013 silver medal. Historically, Belarus has had the edge against Norway and Slovenia, but those games can’t be taken for granted either. Objectively, the men in red and green should keep their top-division status, but somewhere between 10th and 12th place seems most likely.


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