Vladimir Denisov was compared to all-time greats like Salei and Tsyplakov after he pulled on the Belarus jersey for the 100th time in a 4-1 win over Kazakhstan.
Belarus defenceman Vladimir Denisov marked his 100th appearance in his country’s colours with an Player of the Game performance in Sunday’s 4-1 win over Kazakhstan.
Typically modest, the 29-year-old was keen to downplay the occasion – and the award – only admitting that he’d known there was some kind of anniversary coming up for him.
“I wasn’t sure if it was this game, but I knew there was a big number some time in this tournament,” he said. “As for the Player of the Game, of course it’s nice to win it but everyone on the team did their jobs. We won the game because everyone showed their best qualities. Some guys did well on offence, some were strong in defence and we had players who scored goals.
“For a team it doesn’t matter who plays the best, it only matters that we win the game.”
It was left to coach Glen Hanlon, Denisov’s boss for many of those 100 games, to offer the plaudits on his man's behalf.
“I remember I first saw Denisov when he was this young long-haired guy playing Keramin,” the coach said. “Even then he had real strength of character and for all these years Vladimir has been a player who represents the heart and soul of his country.
“In the history of the Belarus team there have been real leaders, guys like Ruslan Salei and Vladimir Tsyplakov, and Denisov is following in their footsteps. Let’s hope Vladimir’s 101st game will be as good as his 100th.”
Game 101 comes on Monday against Switzerland, and a victory against last year’s silver medallists would give Belarus a great chance of advancing to the quarter finals.
And that evokes memories of one of Denisov’s proudest moments in a Belarus jersey, back in his first World Championship campaign in 2006 in Riga. The rookie defenceman was part of the team that won 2-1 against the Swiss, booking a quarter-final spot in the process.
That was a first for the team, and the sixth-placed finish remains its best-ever result.
Now, though, home advantage and a passionate crowd is starting to nurture dreams of a repeat after recent relegation battles. Some surprise results have thrown Group B wide open, and success against the Swiss would put Belarus six points ahead of the Alpine nation.
Denisov, though, is keeping his feet on the ground. Before the tournament he was reluctant to make predictions about Belarus’ prospects, and told local TV that his greatest fear was that the team would let its fans down on home ice.
But after beating Kazakhstan and banishing the memories of a heavy opening day defeat against the USA, the Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod blue-liner is more confident that this is a tournament where all teams can hope to pull off some big results.
“In today’s hockey a lot of teams are at the same kind of level and there are no weak opponents out there,” he said. “France showed that against Canada, then Italy went out and surprised France. Hockey’s an unpredictable game right now. Even when we played the Americans, although we gave up six goals at the start of the game it was pretty even and I don’t think we deserved to lose so badly.”
The other factor that is driving Belarus in this tournament is the passionate home crowd.
The hockey public in Minsk is well accustomed to getting behind Dynamo in the KHL and has readily transferred that affection to the national team. Denisov admitted that without the roars of a big crowd at their backs it would have been much harder for the team to recover from losing an early goal against Kazakhstan. Prior to the championship Denisov warned that the added pressure of playing at home might affect some of the players, but up to now familiar territory seems to be an inspiration rather than a concern.
Meanwhile as Belarus prepared to face Switzerland, head coach Hanlon during a press conference hit out at rumours that he was in line to replace Sean Simpson behind the Swiss bench after the tournament.
“It’s funny how this story came out just before our match against Switzerland,” he said. “Are there any quotes from me in that article? Did anybody ask me? No. I think it’s unfair, dishonest and wrong. I’m here with Belarus and I want to win it with them.”