By Yuri Karpenko
The Belarusian squad has played two matches in Smolensk, against Russia, as part of the new tournament — European Hockey Challenge. In the first match, the host team won 3:2 (in a penalty shootout) while the second match saw Belarus take revenge, with a score of 6:4. This is their first defeat of Russia in the past 11 years (since May 7th, 2000, at the World Championship in St. Petersburg). Both teams’ line-ups were experimental, with the matches serving to show how they were performing: the coaches were taking a closer look at each other’s squads, adjusting tactics accordingly.
Belarus’ next sparring partner was the current world champion, the Czech Republic. Minsk-Arena, the biggest rink in Belarus, hosted the event for the first time, giving local fans a real treat. The match was a success for the hosts, who won 3:2 (after a penalty shootout). Previously, Belarus and the Czech Republic have met eleven times, with all matches won by the Czech squad. The repeat match — held the next day in Bobruisk — brought victory to the guests, with the same score of 3:2.
The 2011 World Championship is to be hosted by Slovakian Bratislava and Kosice from 29th April to 15th May. During the preliminary round, Belarus is to perform in B Group, facing Canada (29th April), Switzerland (1st May) and France (3rd May). If Belarus can finish no lower than third, it will go through to the second round.
Meanwhile, Minsk Yunost hockey players have won the Open Belarusian Hockey Championship for the sixth time. Yunost defeated Neman in Grodno in the sixth match of the final extra-league series to take gold. The final series ended with the score of 4:2, to Yunost’s favour.