MINSK – The Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation has chosen a domestic solution and named Andrei Skabelka as new head coach of its men’s national team. He replaces Finn Kari Heikkilä.
Heikkilä moved to Belarus last year to coach the national team. He also became head coach of Belarusian KHL team Dynamo Minsk but was released in October.
Skabelka is currently the head coach of another club team, HK Gomel of the Belarusian Extraliga, a position he will continue to hold until the end of the season. The 42-year-old was unanimously selected by the national team working group at a meeting in Minsk on Friday. The length of his assignment has not been determined yet.
The other candidate, Alexander Andrievski, who took over as head coach of Dynamo Minsk, was named the national team’s assistant coach.
Both Skabelka and Andrievski were already part of the coaching staff at the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
Skabelka played in the Soviet/Russian league for CSKA Moscow, SKA Khabarovsk, Tivali Minsk, Torpedo Yaroslavl, Ak Bars Kazan, Lada Togliatti, Salavat Yulayev Ufa, Sibir Novosibirsk, and for Yunost Minsk and Dynamo Minsk in the Belarusian league.
He represented the Belarusian national team in 133 games (49 goals, 65 assists) including the 1998 and 2002 Olympic Winter Games and 12 World Championships including five in the Top Division. He was named Belarusian Player of the Year in 1994 and 1997.
The Minsk native has been coaching HK Gomel since 2009 and had his first stint with the national team as an assistant coach last year.
Skabelka was already coaching the national team two weeks ago when it played two exhibition games in Kyiv against Ukraine that ended with a 2-1 win and a 2-2 tie.
Also Andrievski returns to the team after a lengthy international career as a player. He played for Dynamo Minsk and Dynamo Moscow during the Soviet era before moving to play in North America – including an NHL game with the Chicago Blackhawks – Finland, Italy and Germany before later transferring to Russian and to Belarus at the end of his career. He also represented Belarus at the 1998 and 2002 Olympics and in seven World Championships.
Andrievski was coaching HK Gomel between 2008 and 2009 before moving to Dynamo Minsk where he was working as a head coach and assistant coach. He was the national team’s assistant coach at the last three World Championships.
During the December international break the Belarusian national team will participate in a tournament in Arosa together with host Switzerland, Norway and Slovakia.
The biggest challenge will come in February with the Final Olympic Qualification. Belarus aims to qualify for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. In order to do so, they need to win Group F in Vojens where they will face host Denmark, Slovenia and Ukraine in a round-robin tournament, 7-10 February 2013.
At the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Belarus will face the Czech Republic, Sweden, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark and Slovenia in the group based in Stockholm during the preliminary round.