Hockey: old glory promotes new achievements
It is known far beyond Belarus that we are experiencing a hockey boom. Modern palaces in regional and district centres are sprouting like mushrooms after summer rain. The times of the country only boasting one hockey team — Dynamo Minsk — are past. We once had to train at an ice rink in neighbouring Lithuania; it hardly seems imaginable. The late 1980s-early 1990s, when the USSR fell apart, were hard times. However, Belarus has now recovered and is keen to develop its sporting traditions…
Passing Minsk’s Palace of Sports, you can’t help but feel proud. Built in 1966, it resembles a grandfather who has experienced much and is now going to retire — to enjoy routine days without any fuss, living for his own pleasure. For over forty years, this relatively small building (by modern standards) has been the country’s main sports arena, hosting all possible games, including hockey. Its ice has seen stars small and large and our national hockey team — previously little known — began its career here. It joined world hockey in Group C and climbed the hockey ladder with painstaking effort. It had moments of stumbling, but always recovered…
Eventually, Belarusian hockey received recognition and, in 2014, the country will host the World Hockey Championship. I feel hugely proud of this fact. I’m proud of my country being noticed and trusted. I’m also proud of the team which has risen from a modest beginning, taking steps to gain confidence and a reputation.
The Palace of Sports can now enjoy ‘retirement’, hosting local events. The new Minsk-Arena took four years to build and is one of the largest sports complexes in Europe. Located on a picturesque site, near a lake, it symbolises the pinnacle of achievement for hockey. Its roots have spread wide in Belarus, encircling the whole country. Its foothold is so strong that these roots would be difficult to extract.
Hockey palaces give birth to hockey teams, while teams help train youngsters in the sport, promoting a healthy lifestyle. This structure is well-developed in Belarus and continues to move on annually. Hockey is now a national sport, with children even in smaller towns dreaming of becoming hockey stars. It’s no wonder that Belarus is now seeing a hockey boom.
The Dynamo Minsk team has also changed. In the USSR Championship (the league which was comparable to the NHL or even exceeded it), CSKA, Spartak, Moscow and Riga Dynamo and SKA led. Initially, the Minsk team was an outsider — which was hardly surprising, since Belarus lacked a serious approach to the sport. Its team operated as a mere formality, without care or attention. Hockey was not a number one sport in Belarus in those days; now, times have changed and Dynamo is born anew in an even more attractive form, sparkling with bright colours. Its bold development plans are impressive.
The Minskers are only playing their second season on the Continental Hockey League, which itself is only two years old. However, it has already proven to be the strongest in Europe, with players from America and Canada even taking part and seeing it as a great honour. In its debut year, Dynamo performed fair to middling — it often lost and replaced its coaches. Like making a pancake, first attempts rarely turn out perfectly.
The second attempt was a success — served with butter and caviar. The line-up and hockey infrastructure of the country had received thoughtful, thorough treatment. Coaches were carefully selected, with Canadian CHL specialist Glen Hanlon initially taking on the role of head coach. Not long ago, he was substituted with Gomel’s coach — Alexander Andrievsky. Glen — who often noted that Belarus is his second home and that he has never seen another country where people love hockey so much — would continue working with the national team which, next year, will participate in the Olympics and World Championships.
The line-up always requires serious consideration, since Belarus is yet to raise enough ‘home grown’ players. Our would-be stars are only in their childhood. With this in mind, foreign players are invited; although not all of them boast well-known names, they are wonderful players with acknowledged authority. Among them are Finnish Mika Oksa, Mikko Jokela, Ossi Vддnдnen, Hannes Hyvцnen, Ville Peltonen and Jussi Makkonen; Swedish Jonas Andersson and Josef Boumedienne; Canadian Geoff Platt, Byron Ritchie and Duvie Westcott; Swedish Martin ¦evc; and Slovak Richard Lintner. Also on the team are Belarusian Andrey Mezin, Vitaly Koval, Alexander Makritsky, Alexander Ryadinsky, Vladimir Denisov, Alexander Kulakov, Dmitry Meleshko, Andrey Mikhalev and Andrey Stas. It’s no wonder that Dynamo smashed Salavat Yulayev (boasting half the Russian squad, headed by its coaches) and Avangard (led by Yaromir Yagr).
Of course, Dynamo’s matches could go more smoothly; they still have a few difficulties to iron out but they are progressing. Their goal shines brightly before them and they can feel themselves inching towards it gradually. Before the start of the season, the squad (and coaches) visited the construction site of Minsk-Arena, not to carry bricks but to focus their minds; by watching it grow, they aligned their future plans with this venue in mind. They would need to do well to ensure its 15,000 seats were always full of fans. In fact, their fans can be extremely noisy — almost deafeningly so. Belarusian hockey matches should be so exciting that all of Minsk wants to attend. A wave of popularity should shake the city, making it passionate for hockey — where hard work and dedication win the day. The team’s motto is ‘be honest and fearless’ — similar to sailors and pilots.
Minsk may be unrecognisable by 2014. It’s beautiful already but, by the time of the World Championship, it will have greatly changed. It may be wise to make your plans now, ready for May, 2014. You’ll be guaranteed a wonderful trip, with fantastic hockey to watch.
By Sergey Kanashits