With only two players in the lineup having played in North America, namely team stalwart Stepan Falkovsky of the Ottawa 67’s and Vadim Malinovski of the Okanagan HC Europe, Belarus traveled to Helsinki for the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship with a team relatively unknown to the international ice hockey community.
Knowing full well that the only possible goal was maintaining the class, the team provided some very inspiring play to kick off the tournament. Although they ultimately lost 6-0 to host Finland in Game One, they maintained a 0-0 score 37 minutes into the game before the floodgates opened. In their second match, a 4-2 loss to Slovakia, the team put up quite a battle in keeping the game close at 3-2, only to then have to swallow an automatic goal as the team attempted to pull the goalie for the extra attacker in an odd play that resulted in an injury to starting goalie Ivan Kulbakov.
This was followed by a 4-1 loss to neighbor Russia and then another tough 5-3 loss to the Czech Republic, the latter of which was a true nail-biter as the game was tied 3-3 until the 54th minute, when the game-winner fell for the Czechs, who also added an empty-netter. Both games, much like the matchup against Slovakia, saw the Belorusians compete for long stretches of the games. This could no longer be claimed once the relegation round began’ however; there, Belarus appeared both lifeless and chanceless. They faced a Swiss team that had been the tournament’s most disappointing and were dismissed from top division play in consecutive 5-1 and 6-2 losses.
Belarus will now be replaced by Latvia in next winter’s WJC.
Several played very well in different capacities during the preliminary round, but, when all was said and done, there was little more than disappointment for most. Danila Karaban often showed more readiness and desire to make things happening, finishing the tournament with four points, all assists. Clearly the team’s top playmaker, his dashes of offense couldn’t cloud his -6 rating, which was amongst the worst on the team. Also of note were his six penalty minutes, as he has 85 in 27 games played for Dynamo Minsk’s U20 team.
No defenseman on the team sported better than a -3 rating and that usually meant that he didn’t see much ice time. As such, there is no doubt that – as expected – Falkovsky was the coach’s go-to guy on the blueline and finished with two points and tons of experience in winding up with a -6 rating. Important, however, is the fact that, when his team competed, Falkovsky was certainly in the thick of things. Aside from his size, what also stuck out was his ability to calm the puck down, collect it, and make a good first pass.
Hard to pick for a team that lost every game and was sent to the D1 group rather unceremoniously, but goaltender Kulbakov really held the team afloat in the preliminary round, despite what looked like an injury that could knock him out of the tournament. He only sported an .882 save percentage and 4.85 goals-against average, but take away the relegation round and several empty net goals against in the preliminary round and it becomes clear how much he did to make his team competitive – when Belarus was truly competitive, at least.
The reasons behind Team Belarus’ disappointing tournament
There was simply too little in the tank offensively for Belarus. The team just could not regularly generate much offense and was completely void of it when it mattered most – in the relegation round. They did a lot to stay competitive in the preliminary round and viewers often felt that the team could have really made some music with one bona fide first line, but this line didn’t exist and that ultimately meant the team didn’t have a chance. A lack of belief in itself really became present in the relegation round, in which it seemed as though all cohesion had been lost. Coach Alexander Beliavski’s magic in keeping the team competitive seemed to wear off as the tournament progressed.
2016 prospect that helped himself
First line forward Dmitri Buinitsky spent 27 games in the KHL this season and was one of the few Belorusians who could regularly skate with the competition. He ended the tourney with two goals, the most on the team, and a -8 rating. As things wore on, his frustration became apparent, but it was obvious for all to see that he had little to work with on the team. Buinitsky is now transferred to the Madison Capitals of the USHL and will clearly be looking to further his draft stock for this summer.
2016 prospect who may have hurt his cause
Heading into the tournament, it was felt that the Patsenkin twins, Alexei and Alexander, would have to contribute regularly if the team were to have a battling chance. With the Patsenkin twins both being measurd at approximately 5’9” and 165 pounds, they simply were not able to compete at this level. It was noticeable and any thoughts of these two being the type of gems that often go unnoticed in lesser scouted countries seem to have faded with this tournament.
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