Hello Belarus, goodbye Slovenia

2014 hosts survive, Slovenes go back down pronto

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Ondrej Nepela Arena Bratislava  Slovakia
Andrei Kostityn (#23) celebrates after giving Belarus a 2-0 first-period lead. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images

BRATISLAVA – Andrei Mikhalyov notched three goals and an assist to pace Belarus to a 7-1 win over Slovenia on Sunday. The Relegation Round finale saves Belarus for 2012 and relegates the newly promoted Slovenes.

Slovenia – Belarus 1-7 (0-2, 1-3, 0-2) Game Sheet Photos

Andrei Kostitsyn notched two goals and an assist, Andrei Stepanov added a goal and an assist, and Sergei Demagin also scored for Belarus. Mikhail Grabovski and Dmitri Korobov both added two assists.

"We didn't play really well all tournament, but we got a new chance tonight, and we won the game," said Grabovski, who captained Belarus.

Robert Sabolic replied for Slovenia.

Slovenia, which has only 155 registered senior players and was making its first Top Division appearance since 2008, was facing stiff odds of staying up without its superstar NHL forward, Anze Kopitar. It can take some measure of pride from solid efforts here at Orange Arena against top nations. But only some.

"It’s a big disappointment, especially since we had some pretty good games," said assistant captain Mitja Robar. "In the first round, in the past, we were just there to be there. But this year, against Russia and Slovakia, we played well. That makes it an even bigger disappointment."

Belarusian netminder Andrei Mezin got the win as Belarus outshot Slovenia 39-24.

Belarus got a quick start. It opened the scoring at 6:02 when Demagin fired a shot from the left faceoff circle past Slovenia's Robert Kristan, who was partially screened by Dmitri Meleshko looking for a tip. At 7:23, Belarus made it 2-0 when Kostitsyn circled behind the Slovenian net, came out in front, and flung a shot inside Kristan’s left post.

"We let them score too early," said Slovenia's Ziga Jeglic. "Our plan was to keep it 0-0 as long as possible and wait for their mistakes."

In the second period, the Belarusians took a three-goal lead on a two-man advantage, as Stepanov whacked a loose puck into a half-open net past the paddle of a lunging Kristan.

Slovenia made it 3-1 at 11:51 as Sabolic fired a quick shot from the right faceoff dot through Mezin.

With 4:08 left in the middle frame, Belarus went up 4-1 when Mikhalyov converted a sweet backhand dish on the rush from Alexei Ugarov. And at 17:13, Kostitsyn’s power play blast from the centre point beat Kristan high on the blocker side.

Andrej Hocevar replaced workhorse Kristan in the Slovenian goal to start the third period. Up near the rafters, a small but vocal band of Belarus fans chanted with earnest glee, and the rest of the crowd did the wave as the clock counted down. Mikhalyov added two more on sweet solo rushes to round out the scoring for Belarus.

"We have to build on this and return as soon as possible," said Robar of Slovenia. "We have some young guys who have shown that the national team can count on them and can be leaders in a few years. Next time, we have to do better. We failed this test."

"The Relegation Round is tough mentally, because there are ups and downs, especially for young guys like me," said Jeglic. "But now we have to go to the Division I championship and win it."

Looking ahead, Belarus will host the 2014 IIHF World Championship in its capital city of Minsk. That makes this victory noteworthy, even though Belarus has a reserved spot as the host and would have had two years to regain Top Division status if relegated. The last country to host this tournament without actually being in the elite category was Switzerland in 1990, and the Swiss didn’t participate that year.

"We have to get back to where Belarus was before, not stay at the same level as teams like Slovenia," said Grabovski.

The last time Belarus was relegated was after a 14th place finish in Finland 2003. (In those days, an automatic spot was reserved in the Top Division for the Far East Qualifier, invariably Japan.)


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