Saturday, February 6, 2010
The third highest seeded team in Group C at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Tournament is Belarus.
Here is a look at the jerseys that Belarus will be wearing in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver which feature the national emblem of Belarus. Oddly, they have changed back to once again have "Belarus" spelled in English rather than Cyrillic as before.
The Belarus National Ice Hockey Team is currently ranked 8th in the IIHF World Rankings and is not a team to be overlooked. Based on their status as one of the top nine ranked countries, Belarus was automatically entered in the 2010 Olympic tournament, allowing them avoid the qualification process for teams outside the top nine.
The Belarusians have participated in the Olympics in ice hockey twice since 1994 after gaining their independence from the Soviet Union.
Their best result was a stunning fourth place in 2002 in Salt Lake City after winning their preliminary group, which consisted of Ukraine, Switzerland and France. After placing last in the final round by going winless against the United States, Finland and Russia, Belarus shocked the world by defeating the heavily favored winners of Group A, Sweden in the Quarterfinals of the Medal Round by a score of 4-3 after Vladimir Kopat famously scored from center ice on a shot that deflected off of Swedish goaltender Tommy Salo's head in what has been called one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history.
Since gaining their independence, Belarus have been regular participants in the World Championships, first being assigned to Pool C as a new country, the lowest rung of the ladder system. After finishing second in 1994, they earned promotion to Pool B by winning Pool C in 1995. After a third place finish in 1996, they won Pool B in 1997, completing a rise to the Top Division in just four years.
Belarus, in general, finishes at the bottom end of the top 10 in the 16 team World Championships and has only been relegated twice, with both of those being due to a rule which allowed one team from the Far East to remain as a representative from that area of the world despite Japan finishing dead last both times, costing Belarus the right to stay in the Top Division. Each time Belarus were demoted, they earned immediate promotion at the first opportunity by winning their group in Division 1. To date, Belarus' best finish in the World Championships has been a sixth place in 2002, ahead of the United States, Slovakia and Switzerland that year.
Belarus enters the 2010 Olympics hoping for four NHLers on it's roster, including Ruslan Salei of Colorado, currently out with a back injury since October, Mikhail Grabovski of Toronto, currently out with a broken wrist, Andrei Kostitsyn, out since late December following knee surgery, and his brother Sergei Kostitsyn, both of Montreal. The remainder of the Belarus roster draws heavily from teams that play in the Kontinental Hockey Legaue (KHL), including four-time Belarus Player of the Year, goaltender Andrei Mezin, the established national team goaltender who was in net for the famous game against Sweden in 2002 as well as in the starter for Belarus in the 1998 Olympics in Japan. Other returning players from 2002 are Salei, his third Olympics, Oleg Antonenko and Konstantin Koltsov. The roster also has 15 players from the ninth place 2009 World Championships roster.
With the format for this year's Olympics calling for the top four teams after the Preliminary Round to receive byes into the quarterfinals, the key for Belarus will be defeating Germany in their game on February 20th in order to place in the top three in Group C, along with hoping to upend or even tie either Finland on the 17th or Sweden on the 19th. If Belarus is defeated by Finland and Sweden as expected, a win over Germany is key for them to draw a lesser ranked opponent for the knockout games for teams ranked 5-12 at the conclusion of the preliminary round, which will determine which four nations will advance to the quarterfinals.
In plain English, due to this year's format, two of the top six countries, Russia, Canada, Sweden, Finland, the United States and the Czech Republic, will be in the knockout round, and beating Germany is key to avoiding one of those two top six nations in order to advance.
Today's featured jersey is a Nike 2002 Belarus National Team Vladimir Tsyplakov jersey as worn during their famous upset over Sweden at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Tsyplakov was originally drafted 59th overall by the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL and played for the Kings in five seasons and parts of two more seasons with the Buffalo Sabres before returning to Russia, where he played an additional four years before retiring.
His final NHL totals were 331 games, 69 goals and 101 assists for 170 points.
Here are the final few minutes of Belarus' shocking upset victory against Sweden in the 2002 Olympics.