Festival of stars
[b]There are still four years to go before the World Ice Hockey Championship, of 2014, is hosted for the first time in Belarus. However, it’s not long when we look at the scope of works to be fulfilled beforehand. We need new hotels, sports facilities and roads… Nevertheless, the first step has been taken, with Minsk-Arena opening in late January, hosting a Continental Hockey League All Stars match. The Arena is to be the main venue for the future world championship and its opening ceremony was suitably grand[/b]
Lifestyle. No other venue in the post-Soviet space rivals Minsk-Arena. Even the USA boasts few such facilities. Three utterly unique sports arenas have been united into one, each a super-state-of-the-art engineering wonder and fulfilling different purposes. Of course, the focus of everybody’s attention is not the cycle track or skating oval, but the ice-hockey rink, seating 15,000. Naturally, every seat was taken for the opening match. Five years ago, any Belarusian hockey fan would think you crazy for suggesting that Minsk would ever host Wayne Gretzky or Mark Messier. The main arena at that time was the 3,000-seater Palace of Sports and it wasn’t grand enough to attract top superstars. Belarusian ice hockey was taking its first unsteady steps. Today, it has matured beyond recognition.
“In our country, sport is part of our lifestyle,” noted Alexander Lukashenko during his solemn speech. “Opening this super-modern arena, we turn a new page in our history. Minsk-Arena adorns our capital’s image as a ground for new champions, forging good health. In recent years, Belarus has become a leader in sports facilities construction. Over the past ten years, we’ve erected over twenty complexes around the entire country. Minsk-Arena has grown within the shortest possible time. It can host competitions for thirty kinds of sports and is suitable for various major cultural and entertainment events.”
Stars on ice. The facility’s hour of triumph will come in 2014, when Minsk will host the Ice Hockey World Championship. Nevertheless, the Arena’s opening saw the ice packed with stars: Alexey Yashin and Jaromir Jagr, Maxim Sushinsky and Sergey Fiodorov, Sandis OzoliņЁ and Michael Garnett. From the VIP box, the almost four-hour show was watched by Vyacheslav Fetisov, Vladislav Tretyak, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier… “I’ve already taken part in similar matches in Germany and Russia but, this time, I was touched,” admits the favourite of Belarusian fans, reliable Continental Hockey League goalie Andrey Mezin. He defended Alexey Yashin’s team net in the second period, when the score was already 6:2 against Yashin’s squad. Sadly, he couldn’t help his team withstand the pressure of Jaromir Jagr’s boys who, by the final whistle, were even further ahead. Nevertheless, regardless of the score, neither the participants of the game (who lost), nor their fans (who were found even in Norway) were upset about the result. Meanwhile, a colourful laser show almost outshone the sports component of the hockey festival.
Destiny’s token. Some significant events took place behind the scenes of general joy; when so many top hockey managers congregate, they can’t but discuss the latest problems. International Ice Hockey Federation President Renй Fasel and IIHF General Secretary Horst Lichtner were at last able to examine Minsk-Arena fully, having only previously seen it during construction. They began musing on the future of the Champions Hockey League and on NHL players’ participation in the Olympic Games. CHL Head Alexander Medvedev touched on problems regarding relations in American and European ice hockey, and the topic of CHL extension. Meanwhile, Wayne Gretzky played hockey with Alexander Lukashenko and… met his Belarusian relatives. At the turn of the last century, Terenty Gretzky took his wife Anna and son Zinovy to Canada, where, Walter — Terenty’s son by a second marriage — gave birth to Wayne. Learning that Wayne’s cousin lives in the small village of Svisloch in the Grodno region, a Slovak journalist offered to pay for a taxi to bring the pair together. “Grandpa Terenty loved me very much. When I began playing ice hockey, he and grandma attended my matches,” recalls the four-time Stanley Cup winner and the holder of 61 NHL records. “I’d like to share this pleasant news of our meeting with my father. I think he’d love to come to Belarus next summer.”
See you later! Wayne Gretzky’s silhouette decorates the emblem of the World Championship for 2014. Most likely, in four years’ time, the sportsman (once named the Great) will again visit Minsk to see world hockey stars. The event is being hosted by Minsk-Arena and Chizhovka Arena, whose construction has recently begun on the banks of the water reserve in the district of the same name, in the Belarusian capital. “To be honest, I don’t know who our greatest contemporary hockey player might be,” Gretzky admitted during the press conference. “Malkin, Ovechkin, Crosby — they are all good. I believe each is outstanding in their own way.” Those who doubt Wayne’s words should wait four years. In March 2014, these guys will personally come to Belarus to determine the best in a face-to-face confrontation, bringing real enjoyment to their audience. No one doubts that the venue will meet all the needs of the tournament, even surpassing expectations.
By Sergey Kanashits