In 2006, the national hockey team of Belarus gained its highest result to date in the World Championship, hosted by Latvia: sixth place. This success was in many respects predetermined by the new head coach’s innovative methods.
Canadian Glen Hanlon’s strategies were a surprise to the players, used to the Soviet school of hockey, but soon began to bear fruit. The team took on a new lease of life, showing more dynamic play, with more risk taking.
Mr. Hanlon’s coaching saw the squad rise at an ever-increasing rate and he was named among the sports personalities of the year. However, his contract with Dinamo Minsk, performing in the KHL, ended unexpectedly, due to ‘unsatisfactory results’; amid much speculation, he left the national team at his own free will a week later. He soon found a new place, coaching the Slovakian national squad, so his return in advance of the Ice Hockey World Championship surprised many: surely inspired by the arrival of new management at the Belarusian Hockey Federation. For the past year, he’s been working hard to create a ‘dream team’ capable of justifying the ambitious hopes of fans.
Here, he shares his thoughts on the team’s chances and how he’s approached the task of raising their game. Chatting on the eve of the World Championship, it’s clear that Glen retains his openness and optimism.
To begin with, I should say that we aren’t training at the moment; rather, we’re getting back in shape. True training is yet to come.
As the players twist and turn on the ice, bombarding Vitaly Koval and Andrey Mezin as they take turns in goal, it all looks very serious.
The guys who’ve just arrived are as I expected; there aren’t any surprises. Andrey Stepanov and Alexey Ugarov finished the season with their clubs a while back, so they are fresh, but those from the Gomel squad were only recently playing in the national championship — so they’re on the best form.
You seem more serious than in previous years of working with the national team. Are you feeling the pressure?
I really haven’t changed; at least, I’m no more serious minded than I was. I’ve always treated my work very seriously, although it may not be noticeable. In 2005, I just appeared in Belarus and everything was a novelty. There were so many new impressions and emotions. Since then, much time has passed and we all know each other better. This time, I’ve been working with the national team for almost a whole year; last time, I was only making flying visits. According to my current contract, I should be in Belarus at least 200 days annually. Believe me, this brings a serious aspect to the job!
Is there a lot of pressure? Do you feel that people expect something extraordinary from the team at the forthcoming tournament?
I’m not aware of pressure or any oppressive feelings — but there is a lot of excitement. It’s to be expected. If you go into a major competition without heightened emotions, there is no hope for you.
As coach, is it different training the team for a World Championship at home, compared with an event hosted abroad?
As to the training process, there’s no difference. We developed the system long ago, and stick to it. There is, of course, a psychological component — but it’s too early to speak about this. Matches begin on May 9th, so we have time ahead and several ‘friendly’ matches. Generally, we aren’t yet focusing on the World Championship.
My present goal is to gather the best Belarusian hockey players and to create conditions for them to practice effectively. As yet, we have only four defenders and eight forwards on the ice, but the guys are gradually arriving. Those who are already with us are trying to quickly improve their skills and physical readiness, which suits me.
There are some unexpected players on the team: for example, Timofey Filin, whom you once involved previously. Is this a chance for him to prove himself again, after nine years?
We need players, so are looking at those from Gomel and Metallurg Zhlobin. It’s more difficult for those who finished the season earlier to get in shape quickly. Nobody is invited onto the national team randomly and nobody can predict what will happen in a week’s time. Filin and the others who are here have the chance to play in the World Championship if they show their worth.
Do you think that any of the players from the regional teams will be able to ‘oust’ those who usually play for the national squad?
It will be difficult for them, and they know that we have some top players — such as Koltsov and Demagin — who are yet to join us. Our younger players will have the chance to prove their talent in ‘friendly’ matches in Norway; believe me, if we think they have more potential than those with greater experience, we’ll give them the chance to join the squad.
I always try to involve younger players in such matches, so they can show how they are progressing. It’s important not only for choosing the team but to give those novices something to aspire to. Gomel defender Mikhail Khoromando, 23, will be playing in Norway. If he makes it onto the national squad it’s great; if not, it’s valuable international match experience. At any rate, he’ll learn something from it and he’ll see what he needs to work upon, so that he’s prepared next time. Older players, like Sergey Stas, are also going to Norway, having the chance to fight for a place on the national team, ready for the World Championship.
Everyone is eager to ascertain the composition of the final team. You mustn’t have shared fans’ joy at Dinamo Minsk reaching the final of the Nadezhda Cup.
It seriously threw my plans into confusion, as I’d been expecting us to begin training all together. However, it’s great that those players are in the final of the Nadezhda Cup. They’ll be on great form psychologically, having smelt victory. If they’d finished the season on March 5th, they’d have been off the ice competitively for a long time, which isn’t good news on the eve of the World Championship. The other side of the coin is that players are prone to injury when playing at a high level. Alexander Kitarov and Andrey Stas have already received injuries and I’d like us to avoid similar troubles in gathering our top players.
Could you tell us your top-five Belarusian players?
If I did, I’d be sure to offend someone: the sixth player or the second goalkeeper. It would serve no purpose. In addition, it’s really hard for me to choose from among our goalkeepers. Whom would you include in this top-five?
The Kostitsyn brothers, Alexey Kalyuzhny, Mikhail Grabovski and, possibly, Andrey Mezin…
They are certainly top players and would be part of a ‘dream team’. Choosing defenders is more difficult. I was keen for Riсhard Lintner to join us, as I know him from the national team of Slovakia, and he’s playing really well for Dinamo Minsk. Sadly, he isn’t available.
Is Andrey Kostitsyn lacking form? He hasn’t been playing well for Traktor, which must bother you?
Not at all; I simply think he lacked practice. He is ‘fresh’ and, I hope, will play well for the national team. I don’t know Andrey’s relations with his regular team, but I thought him one of the best forwards at the December tournament in Switzerland. He’s been pushing himself to the limit during training, so I’m happy with him.
In advance of major tournaments, we often hear of our sports management setting goals for sportsmen. Do you know what they ‘expect’ this time?
To be honest, I don’t; nobody has mentioned it to me! My own goal is to gain the very best from the team. It may sound predictable but I can only ask the players to give me all they have, to push themselves to the limit. Even during that memorable World Championship in 2006, in Riga, where we took sixth place, I didn’t urge the team towards any particular goal. I just asked them to do their best.
We’re working on psychological preparation. I’m asking them to do all they can to make the country proud, so that they have nothing with which to reproach themselves after the championship. Fans should feel that they’ve seen the national team at its best. If they agree that this is so, I’ll be delighted.
By Dmitry Komashko
Head coach and his team
<img class="imgr" alt="Glen Hanlon" src="http://www.belarus-magazine.by/belen/data/upimages/2009/0001-009-416.jpg">[b]In 2006, the national hockey team of Belarus gained its highest result to date in the World Championship, hosted by Latvia: sixth place. This success was in many respects predetermined by the new head coach’s innovative methods. [/b]<br />Canadian Glen Hanlon’s strategies were a surprise to the players, used to the Soviet school of hockey, but soon began to bear fruit. The team took on a new lease of life, showing more dynamic play, with more risk taking. <br />Mr. Hanlon’s coaching saw the squad rise at an ever-increasing rate and he was named among the sports personalities of the year. However, his contract with Dinamo Minsk, performing in the KHL, ended unexpectedly, due to ‘unsatisfactory results’; amid much speculation, he left the national team at his own free will a week later. He soon found a new place, coaching the Slovakian national squad, so his return in advance of the Ice Hockey World Championship surprised many: surely inspired by the arrival of new management at the Belarusian Hockey Federation. For the past year, he’s been working hard to create a ‘dream team’ capable of justifying the ambitious hopes of fans.