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Czech List: A Look Back at the Minsk World Hockey Championship

By on May 30, 2014 in IIHF with 0 Comments

By Radoslav Vavřina, Czech Correspondent for All Habs Hockey Magazine

MINSK, BELARUS — It’s pretty beautiful here in Minsk. Prior to the 2014 IIHF World Championship, we didn’t know what awaited us. What the place will actually look like? How good the food will be and how open-minded locals would be towards foreigners?

imgMinskWell, politics have nothing to do with hockey and that was confirmed here in Belarus. People are friendly here ,even if you speak English to everybody and the locals have done a really great job looking to make our stay as comfortable as possible. If you hear or read something else, don’t believe it.

The city is pretty great and while there is a lot of socialist-era architecture, there are modern high rises as well. The subway has a really old-fashioned look and buses provide connections to both arenas and besides acting like greenhouses when it’s warm outside, they’re pretty good to ride.

Even the food tastes good and it’s very cheap if you are from the west. The only thing that would need some improving are the homes. It looks like they don’t spend much money on keeping them looking good for some reason. I’m actually living in a small flat with seven other journalists. The reason why homes look shabby is that here in former Soviet countries, wealth of an individual is measured by what car they’ve got, not where they live.

Hockey is probably the best thing here anyways. To be honest, Team Canada looked just as good as Russians out there, but they were sent home early because Ben Scrivens allowed a couple of unneccesary goals in the quarterfinal game with Finland. But the Canadians were amazing both offensively and defensively.

The most exciting teams were France and Latvia. The latter failed to advance from the preliminary round despite great coaching by Ted Nolan and beating both Finland and the United States. The game with USA was a wild one as the final score was 6-5 and the final minute of regulation was just nuts. That can be said about the Switzerland-Latvia game as well. You might have seen the two Swiss forwards going towards the empty net before they hit the post after defenseman Kaspars Sotnieks raced back to break up the sure goal.

France had an amazing player in Antoine Roussel (Dallas Stars) who managed to get his team momentum everytime they needed. Their win over Canada sure looked great, but it’s the Norway game that symbolizes Roussel’s abilities. Trailing midway through the second period, Roussel scored on a deflection on the doorstep and then leaned down to say some sweet words to netminder Lars Haugen (HC Dinamo Minsk) who then gave up two more goals in the following couple of minutes and France, all of a sudden, was leading. The final score was a crucial win for the French who then advanced to quarterfinals for the first time ever.

My team, the Czechs, were okay in the preliminary round, then pulled off a great win over the United States in the quarterfinals, but that was it. Led by legend in Jaromír Jágr, the team failed to score a goal in both semis and the bronze-medal game and that was kind of depressing.

Russia was fun to watch as well, even though I only managed to see them in the semifinals and the gold-medal game. They have all the big guns here like Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and also Sergei Bobrovsky in net. However, neither of the three was the key to their success. At least that’s the way I see it. You probably know that coaches have trouble handling Ovechkin and the Russian national team was no exception.

Former great player Slava Bykov did a pretty decent job coaching while his successor Zinetula Bilyaletdinov just couldn’t handle him. Now, the Russians hired Latvian coach Olegs Znaroks prior to the tournament and while he probably became famous for his cutthroat gesture meant for a Swedish assistant coach in the semifinals following a dirty play by Mikael Backlund, it sure looks like he was the main architect of the success and you could tell by the way Ovechkin acted. The Capitals are sure hoping Barry Trotz can do something like that, too.

Another big player besides Viktor Tikhonov for the Russians was the recipient of the late hit by Backlund, Sergei Plotnikov. He was a cornerstone in the winning strategy by Znaroks as he was on the top line with Ovechkin and Tikhonov. And while the two took care of scoring, he was there to get his gloves dirty. He played a great two-way game so rare among Russian players and became a favorite of mine instantly. There’s not much holding him from becoming an NHLer in my opinion.

By the way, Plotnikov was born out in the east of Russia and calls Komsomolsk-na-Amure his hometown, a large city roughly halfway between the border with China and the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk. Pretty cool, huh?

Plotnikov wasn’t the only player in the tournament born in a rather exotic place. Finnish agitator Leo Komarov (Moscow Dynamo) was born in Estonia, French veteran Yorick Treille in Cannes, Dmitri Upper comes from rural Kazakhstan and Swiss forward Victor Stancescu moved to the country as a child from Bucharest, Romania.

Talking about places unlikely to produce someone big, let’s take a look at the Belarusian president as well. The popular Alexander Lukashenko hails from a small town of Kopys somewhere in Belarus and both he and his long-time friend Vladimir Putin received huge ovations from the crowd at the Minsk-Arena in the gold-medal game.

Russia Hockey Championships World mPeople in Belarus say they’re honestly proud of being Belarusians and that Lukashenko is a good man who has helped improve the country many times. Truth be told, there are state-of-the-art highways connecting the cities, the airport looks very modern, railways are undergoing renovations and he also invested tons of money to build loads of new sporting venues in the past couple of years.

But, they also kind of feel like there’s maybe something better out west and it’s not like they’re not allowed to go. Some have been to London or want to visit Paris one day and the richest can even go to New York. Why emigrate though? A lot of people did that when the Communists ruled the entire Eastern part of Europe. The regime has, however, changed.

There is some kind of a security in the insecurity. So while they’re not sure if this is the best they can do, they are sure that Mr. Lukashenko will take care of them, provide them with affordable gas for their expensive cars, create employment and also being an ally of Russia helps.

So probably if you’re Canadian, you could hear some politicians in your continent say that this event shouldn’t be supported by Hockey Canada or USA Hockey because it’s not a free country. But if you’re Belarusian, you look at all the good things you have and it doesn’t look to you that you do as bad as they say out west.

At least that’s the way things looked like during the World Championship and sounded like when people who wanted to open up a little about them did open up.

Sorry if this is too much politics, it’s only intended to draw a picture for you. Obviously, politics are a huge topic going into a country that’s criticized out west so much and having people going over there to see things first hand and clear the situation up to the rest of the world is always a good thing.

The Czech List will be back later in June with a pre-draft edition and then in July summing up the NHL Entry Draft. August will mark a beginning of a new era and you’ll know more soon.

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