Zakharov leads Belarus to victory

By Eric Forest

While everyone’s attention was on Belarussian Andrei Kastsitsyn at the 2003 NHL Draft in Nashville, the St

While everyone’s attention was on Belarussian Andrei Kastsitsyn at the 2003 NHL Draft in Nashville, the St. Louis Blues’ management was focused on a skilled and intriguing compatriot: Konstantin Zakharov. Zakharov was selected 101th overall in the third round by the Blues, with a pick obtained from New Jersey. After time with HK Gomel (East European League) and HC Minsk Yunost (Belarussian League), Zakharov was taken last summer in the Canadian Hockey League European Draft by Moncton and came over to adjust to the North American game for the 2003-04 season. Konstantin is beginning to look more and more as a steal as the season goes by. He had a chance to prove his doubters wrong when he was selected to help Belarus in the U20 Division I.

Zakharov didn’t disappoint at all in the tournament which took place in Briancon, France. He joined his teammates and prepared to play against Estonia, France, Italy, Norway and Japan in Group B. Belarus was ready to play as a team and make everyone forget about their last place finish in last year’s WJC. They had the chance to win this tournament and get their spot back for the 2004 WJC. Under Belarus coach and father Mikhail Zakharov, Konstantin played an inspired game and led his team to victory alongside Montreal’s Andrei Kastsitsyn. Paired with Vadzim Karaha and Mikhail Grabovski, Zakharov finished first among scoring leaders with 14 points in five games, notching four goals and ten assists. Belarus was clearly the favorite team to win it all and didn’t have much opposition. The only team able to score more than two goals was Japan in Belarus’ 7-5 win. The Directorate selected Kazharov as the best forward in the championship and of course the best player for Belarus. It is just another marker in Zakharov’s long international sheet which consists of a lot of Team Belarus selection in the last five years (U18, WJC). Zakharov is now back with Moncton with one goal in sight: the Memorial Cup.

The 6’2, 192 lbs. forward is a natural goal scorer with good speed and is strong on his skates. He is tough to beat when he is in a one-on-one confrontation and has average defensive abilities. He is mature and takes the hard way to elevate his game when the pressure is on. He also has playmaking abilities and makes his pass accurately. He can throw solid checks once in a while and isn’t afraid of opposition. He is smart in the corners and can sacrifice himself when needed. He creates a lot of scoring opportunities for Moncton and can generate goals on the power play.

Things weren’t looking good at the start of the 2003-2004 season, the Wildcats had three Euros in their lineup and could only dress two for games, a rule adopted by the CHL. Zakharov, Alexei Shtokov (another Blues draftee) and Martin Karsums were forced to sit and watch every two games because of the surplus. The situation was soon corrected when Shtokov got traded to the Quebec Remparts. Zhakarov could now fully develop in a good environment. It didn’t take him long to get Moncton fans’ attention, skating into the offensive zone and scoring goals at a nice pace for a first year player.

He currently sits fifth in rookie scoring behind prolific Sidney Crosby, Alexandre Blais, Guillaume Latendresse and fellow European Petr Pohl with 29 points in only 20 games. Every other rookie has played at least 33 games. Zakharov is also having one of the best shooting percentage with 31.7 percent, scoring 20 goals with only 63 shots on goal. He is a vital part of the team, in which he is also fifth in scoring behind Karl Gagné, Steve Bernier (San Jose), Mathieu Bétournay and James Sanford. With a record of 25-11-2-1 (53 points), the Wildcats are currently second in the QMHJL’s East Division, less than five points behind Cape-Breton. Moncton is currently seventh in the CHL, behind reigning number one Gatineau and also behind Cape-Breton and I-P-E. We can presume that Zakharov would likely be ahead some of his teammates if it weren’t for the games he missed due to his selection for the U20 World Junior Championship.

Expect Konstantin to be a part of the Wildcats’ excellence in the Q. Along with young prospects Alexei Shtokov (Quebec) and Alexandre Bolduc (Rouyn-Noranda), the Blues have three gems in the Q who could make their roster in the future.