If Belarus is to have any chance of staving off relegation at the 2018 World Junior Championships in Buffalo, they will need nothing short of a miracle. Stranger things have happened before but the Belorussians are in deep waters. Perhaps the one saving grace that they have from the get-go is being in Group B and being away from the likes of Canada, USA and Finland. Still, Belarus has some intimidating opponents in the early goings and throughout the tournament no matter how you look at it.
The leadership on their roster is certainly good. Having a Stanley Cup-winning associate coach in the likes of Dave Lewis as one of their assistants certainly bodes well too. Belarus will need any leverage that they can get, and Lewis’ familiarity with both the North American and European game is certainly a plus.
THW takes a look at how Belarus’ finalized 23-man roster is compiled:
Andrei Grischenko (Belarus U20), Dmitri Rodik (Belarus U20), Nikita Tolopilo (Belarus U20).
Nikita Tolopilo is the youngest, having turned 17 this past June. However, he is by far the largest at 6-feet-6-inches and approaching the 220-pound mark. Not intending to put any undue pressure on the kid, Belarus may decide to give Tolopilo a chance in net just from his size alone. He can definitely get his body in front of pucks, and seems to have the speed for getting into sound positioning to make the save, too. Tolopilo has played in 17 games this past year for Belarus’ U-18 team and compiled a 2.10 goals-against average.
— Nick Tuzzolino (@N_Tuzzolino) December 19, 2017
Andrei Grischenko played seven games in net for Belarus during last year’s U18 tournament. There, he did admirably well with a 3.31 GAA and a .905 save percentage. At 6-foot-2 and at 175 pounds, Grischenko has decent size too.
The third option is Dmitri Rodik. He is the oldest of the three goalies at 19, but is also the smallest. Rodik stands 5-foot-11 and is 187 pounds. He has experience for Belarus at the Division 1A U18 tournament where he had four appearances for a 3.59 GAA and a .828 SV%.
There would be nothing wrong with giving Tolopilo an opportunity to see what he can do. More than likely though, Rodik, given his age and experience, will take the reins, to begin with at least.
Dmitri Burovtsev (Belarus U20), Dmitri Deryabin (Belarus U20), Vladislav Gabrus, (Belarus U20), Andrei Gostev (Belarus U20), Vladislav Martynyuk (Kunlun Red Star Junior), Vladislav Sokolovski (Dynamo Molodechno), Vladislav Yeryomenko (Calgary Hitmen).
Vladislav Yeryomenko is easily Belarus’ best defender. A fixture on the back end for the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, he moves the puck very well and can help create some offense. In 93 games over the past two seasons with Calgary, Yeryomenko has 14 goals and 37 assists for 51 points. Belarus will need him to step up into the rush and also be a quarterback for any power play opportunities they receive.
— Calgary Hitmen (@WHLHitmen) December 13, 2017
Vladislav Martynyuk plays for the KHL’s Kunlun Red Star’s junior team. More of a smallish defender at 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds, he can also be called upon to create some offense from the defense corps. In 39 games for the Junior Red Star, Martynyuk has scored a pair of goals and added 16 assists for 18 points. Martynyuk and Yeryomenko might be your top pair among D-men for Belarus.
One of the oldest players at this tournament is Andrei Gostev. The 6-foot-2 defender for Belarus will actually turn 20 years old in February, so this is his last opportunity at the U20 level. While Gostev has played for the Belorussian national youth teams before, he has never gotten the nod to partake in a World Junior Championship tournament of any age until now.
Nazar Anisimov (Belarus U20), Arseni Astashevich (Belarus U20), Viktor Bovbel (Belarus U20), Ivan Drozdov (Yunost Minsk), Dmitri Grinkevich (Belarus U20), Ilya Litvinov (Yunost Minsk), Alexander Lukashevich (Belarus U20), Sergei Pischuk (Belarus U20), Vladislav Ryadchenko (Belarus U20), Yegor Sharangovich (Dynamo Minsk), Maksim Sushko (Owen Sound Attack), Igor Martynov (Victoria Royals), Vladislav Mikhalchuk (Prince George Cougars).
Belarus does have some forwards that can wheel and deal at this level. Arguably their best player – who has also been named team captain – in Maksim Sushko. This is a right-winger who was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers at No. 107 of the 2017 NHL draft. Sushko has played the last two years in the OHL for the Owen Sound Attack. In that time he has tallied 33 goals and 25 assists for 58 points in 82 games. It is imperative that Sushko is playing at his very best in Buffalo, as Belarus needs him to in order to avoid that dreadful relegation.
KHL forward Yegor Sharangovich is playing in his third and final World Junior Championships. He is one of the few players on this team that helped Belarus advance out of the Division 1A tournament and play in the top division. Playing for Dinamo Minsk, Sharangovich has four goals and six assists in 41 games this year. Alongside Sushko, he has been named an alternate captain.
Another forward who is capable of creating some offense is Igor Martynov. This winger currently plays in the WHL for the Victoria Royals. This season Martynov has appeared in 34 games and has scored 12 goals and 15 assists. Certainly not shabby numbers by any stretch, and he is a plus-eight.
The Bottom Line
There are few dangerous weapons for Belarus, other than Sushko. This is going to make it very difficult for them to get a win in the preliminary portion of the tournament. Sushko makes a solid choice for captain, and it certainly helps to have Sharangovich, too.
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) December 17, 2016
Yeryomenko and Martynyuk will need to join the rush at any opportunity that they can get. Otherwise, it is going to be extremely difficult for the Belorussians to even get one. What is most concerning about this team is their goaltending. Very little is known about their netminders. That could be a good thing in a way, in terms of advantages and facing the unknown. But it will ultimately come down to skill.
Belarus is likely to finish last and be relegated once more, unfortunately.
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