Genuine team, beautiful play

Belarusian hockey team leaves brilliant impressions in its wake
The championship in Riga was nonunique and not ordinary and therefore interesting. While some fans and hockey players can think about it in a joyless way, the championship turned out to be rememberable and kind of historical for the Belarusian combined team.

The Belarusians were the pet of the public since the very first days of the tournament. First, the team reached its best ever record by getting to the 6th place ahead of recognised grands such as the USA and Slovakia. The Belarusians showed modern hockey by beating Slovakia at the tournament and crushing Ukraine (9–1) and Kazakhstan (7–1). But it was not the victories that made Belarus remembered by the hockey beau-monde. Specialists were unanimous in recognising Glen Hanlon’s team the most genuine and inspiring one of the tournament…

Canadian specialist Glen Hanlon, chief coach of NHL club Washington Capitals, has been working with the Belarusian team for two seasons already. In 2005 during a lock-out in the world’s most powerful league Hanlon accepted the proposal of the Belarusian Hockey Federation and arrived in the country he’d never been before. He arrived to get down to work, which ripe fruits the world saw in Riga.

Hanlon turned out to be a highly qualified coach and an astounding psychologist. Over the short time he inspired the team with winning spirit, made the team believe in their own powers, removed the inferiority complex. It is was interesting to see “uncle Glen” (that’s the nickname he was given by Belarusian fans) working at the world championship. With his unbelievable charisma Hanlon managed to get everyone love him. People went to his press conferences like they go to the theatre and watched “one-man” plays, gaping. To the specific Belarusian hockey Hanlon brought Canadian colours and professionalism he developed over the years. There are no little things in hockey and the team accepted the concept as a guideline.

The coach staff of the Belarusian team was among the most unified and powerful ones at the tournament. Hanlon invited his old mate and companion-in-arms Sean Simpson, who had worked in Switzerland for long, and specialist in modern computer technologies Todd Woodcroft. Recent hockey stars Vladimir Tsyplakov and Eduard Zankovets became the linking part between the English-speaking trio and the players. They are just novices in the coach business, but last year they learnt a lot from their teachers. This monolith, this unity of the coaches is the first reason of the Belarusian team’s successful performance.

The second reason is rooted in the first. The coaches shaped the team “in their image”. The approach to the team formation, which looks somewhat strange to a fresh eye, brought incredible results. Candidates were chosen to fill certain tactical schemes and their human qualities were judged as well.

The result was a monolith. The team took Hanlon’s slogan like their own. The simple wording “We will make history. Here and now” was placed on every player’s T-shirt and entered everyone’s heart. It is surprising that the team lacked such recognised leaders as Ruslan Salei, Aleksei Kalyuzhnyi, Konstantin Koltsov, but the lack was not felt. The press branded Andrei Mezin the best goalkeeper of the tournament, Mikhail Grabovskiy was named “the Belarusian rocket”. Andrei Kostitsyn was the only NHL member on the team. The world admired their play. The tournament revealed such new stars as Sergei Zadelenov, Dmitriy Meleshko, Vladimir Denisov, Viktor Kostyuchenok… All of them are destined to spend year after year in the world hockey league making the game ever more savoury.

The fair play prize went to the Belarusian team unconditionally. In the final match against Switzerland in the second round Belarus would settle for a draw. This result would have suited Switzerland just well, leaving them to fight for medals in play-off and kicking Slovakia out of the game. Due to unknown reasons everyone was sure the teams would not play fair, but settle for a draw. Switzerland representatives were gossiped to approach the Belarusians and get nothing. “We didn’t even take such variants into account,” said Hanlon after the victory. “The guys had already started thinking we play for the victory in every game. It would have been a crime to break this psychology…”

The Belarusian national team wrote another page of its history. Never before the team had played so beautifully. Will the team be able to improve its achievements the next season? The coaches believe it will. Belarusian fans started believing as well.

by Sergei Kanashits
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