By Yuri Karpenko
Minsk recently hosted its traditional Christmas International Amateur Ice Hockey Tournament for the prize of the President of Belarus. It’s a well-established feature on the Belarusian hockey calendar, viewed as a veterans’ championship: a competition for ‘real men’. No other place on earth can boast such a major hockey tournament for amateurs. Moreover, it’s high level of organisation, the hospitality of Belarusian fans and ardent audience support combine to create a unique atmosphere. Of course, the President’s personal involvement in the competition is also noteworthy.
The Head of the Belarusian Hockey Federation, Yevgeny Vorsin, points out that the tournament’s prestige rises each year. “Ever more teams are keen to take part in the event: more than are envisaged by our regulations,” he notes. “It’s inspiring that not only our neighbouring states apply to participate; more distant countries and traditional ‘hockey states’ like Sweden and Canada are eager to join us. I think that, next year, they’ll take part in the tournament.” With this growing popularity in mind, the organisers plan to expand the geography of the Christmas Tournament next year, giving it the status of a world amateur championship. The issue is to be raised at the next International Hockey Federation congress meeting.
This year, amateurs from Austria, Germany, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, Finland, Switzerland and Belarus took to the Belarusian ice, with the tournament keeping its original format. After the first round, the team played knock-out matches to settle the final two squads. Fans anticipated seeing all-time rivals Belarus and Russia (which won the event once) in the ultimate match, and were not disappointed. As before, Russia brought its legendary players to Minsk: Alexander Yakushev, Sergey Makarov, Valery Kamensky, Vladimir Malakhov, Victor Lutchenko, Andrey Kovalenko and Maxim Mikhailovsky.
On the way to the finals, Belarus defeated Austria, Germany and Finland in its sub-group while Russia crushed Ukraine, Switzerland and Slovakia in Group B. The decisive fight at Minsk-Arena was dramatic and enthralling, with Russia proving luckier, snatching its win via a series of penalty kicks (after a 2:2 draw).
Despite defeat, Belarus cannot be viewed as a loser, having posed an equal threat to its opponents: once world and Olympic champions. Russian Mikhailovsky was named ‘best goalkeeper’ of the tournament once again while representatives of the Belarusian President’s squad — Vladimir Tsyplakov and Andrey Astashevich — were named ‘best defenseman’ and ‘best forward’ respectively. Next year, Belarus should gain the chance to redeem itself, if the favourites meet in the finals again.