Kevin Lalande never thought he'd play hockey for Belarus - but now he admits a showdown with his native Canada is a real possibility at the World Championship.
What started out as a way of traveling around the KHL more easily could see Belarusian goalie Kevin Lalande into a World Championship quarter-final against his native country.
The Canadian-born shot-stopper adopted Belarusian citizenship in January 2013, midway through his second season with Dynamo Minsk.
But at that time he had little idea that it would see him playing international hockey and being part of the biggest international sporting event ever staged in Belarus.
“I kinda stumbled into it to be honest,” the Kingston, Ontario native said. “I got to keep my Canadian citizenship so there wasn't any downside to getting a Belarusian passport, but I wasn't thinking this far ahead.
“At first it just made traveling a lot easier in Russia, I didn't need a visa and it saved a couple of pages in my Canadian passport.”
That all changed when fellow Canadian Glen Hanlon returned to coach Belarus for a second spell.
“When Glen was named head coach we had couple of conversations and he made it clear from the start that he wanted me to be a part of this,” Lalande said. “He didn't know whether I'd play or not but he's always been very supportive and I owe everything to him for this chance.”
That chance finally arrived during the Worlds here in Minsk. Although Lalande was viewed as back-up to the experienced duo of Vitali Koval and Andrei Mezin, he was named as the starter for Belarus’ game against Finland, conceding one goal in a 0-2 reverse. Then he was thrust back into the action when Koval was too ill to continue against Germany. This time kept his goal intact for 40 minutes as his team turned a 1-2 deficit into a 5-2 victory.
It’s a result which has all of Belarus dreaming of a quarter-final berth – something that could be confirmed with victory over Latvia tonight – and a potential showdown with Canada in the knock-out rounds.
“You try not to think too far ahead but obviously the prospect of playing Canada is in the back of your mind a little bit,” Lalande said. But we still have a lot of work to do and Latvia will be a big game. They’re playing extremely well and scoring a lot of goals so that’s our focus right now.”
Latvia and Belarus are locked on nine points each going into tonight’s game, and both countries are enjoying an improved showing in the competition after struggles in recent years. So with a big showdown to come, it’s a time for big-name players to step up. That’s why Lalande is happy to have Mikhail Grabovski in the Belarusian locker room.
“He's not making big bucks in the NHL for nothing,” said Lalande of Belarus’ biggest star. “He’s a world class player. He was by far the best player for us against the Germans. He's a leader on this team and he stepped it up when we needed him to.”
Meanwhile Lalande himself is reveling in his first taste of a major international event – even if it was something he never anticipated when the idea of becoming a Belarusian citizen first arose.
“Suddenly I’m on a world stage and I’m representing not just a team but a country,” he said. “I've not had the citizenship for a long time but this city and this country's been good to me in my time here and I'm just happy to contribute.
“The local guys have done a great job of accepting me, Geoff [Platt, a Canadian-born forward on the roster] and Glen. It’s nice to have those two with me in the locker room but the guys have been very open to having all of us on the team and that’s helped a lot.”