The unsung hero

Mister Neman Grodno comes up big in Belarus’ playoffs

16.04.2014
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The Neman Grodno players celebrate their second straight Belarusian Extraliga title. Photo: Neman Grodno

GRODNO, Belarus – Success is addictive. After having finished runner-up for two consecutive years, Neman Grodno celebrated their second Belarusian Extraliga championship victory in a row. A Vyacheslav Lisichkin goal in overtime in game six against Yunost Minsk clinched a prolonged stay of the golden trophy in Grodno.

“It’s nice that I ended up scoring the decisive goal, but it shouldn’t be me only in the spotlights,” Lisichkin spoke modestly after being interviewed after the game. “Today the whole team played to win. Playing a seventh game on home ice wasn’t in our agenda today.”

Similar phrases are often spoken after important goals are scored, but they seem genuine when coming out of Lisichkin’s mouth. The 33-year old veteran is probably the paragon of loyalty and puts the team first.

The unsung hero has never represented another club team during his career which spans already 16 years. The small but agile Lisichkin has never been a star player nor represented his country but is one of those players a coach can always rely on to produce and is putting in a honest effort every game.

His golden goal, his first in the series, meant he could add a fourth Belarus title to his name, a feat no other Neman Grodno player can mirror.

The Murmansk, Russia born forward showed his experience and smarts after nearly 74 minutes were played and the score was tied 1-1. Viktor Andrushenko tried to get the puck deep around the boards. His shot got deflected by a Yunost defenceman and Lisichkin reacted quickest on the loose puck.

Rather than shooting immediately he patiently outwaited a last ditch diving effort of Andrei Bashko and then had the nerves to also wait for Yunost goaltender Vitali Belinski to commit, before slotting the puck into the empty net. Not long after the goal the ice was littered with sticks, helmets and gloves and Mister Neman Grodno was buried under a pile of white jerseys.

At the same time, the upper deck of the Chizhovka Arena in Minsk passed a stress test with the large Neman fan base mirroring the celebrations on the ice. A grand total of seven busses accompanied the players on the way from Grodno to Minsk while many fans also travelled by car. The mass fan base ensured an atmosphere unseen in recent Belarus history. For 74 straight minutes the Neman fans literally created a vibe that could be felt throughout the arena. The continuous singing, bang drumming and jumping had the arena shake on its moorings.

The 2014 Belarusian Extraliga playoff final was far more exciting than last year’s edition in which Neman Grodno beat Metallurg Zhlobin in four straight games.

The battle against the top two teams in the league was a close contest with no team really able to take the upper hand.

Yunost Minsk drew first blood winning game one 4-2, but they found themselves trailing the series two games later with Neman Grodno winning game two and three.

Two second period goals in quick succession and a 23-save shutout performance by Belinski evened the series after four games before the crucial fifth game was played in Grodno.

With a match point on the line, Neman came out strong scoring twice within the first 11 minutes. After 07:23, Sergei Kolosov opened the scoring on the power play before Pavel Boyarchuk doubled the lead with his fourth series goal.

Maxim Slysh cut the deficit back to one with a power play marker not long after but the momentum of this goal was short lived. Less than a minute in the second period, Alexander Usenko pulled the trigger during a 5-on-3 power play situation to make it a 3-1, a score that was still on the scoreboard after 60 minutes.

In front of 5,500 spectators, Yunost Minsk got what it wanted from the start of game six. Receiving a long outlet pass, Alexander Borovkov slid the puck underneath Igor Brikun to put to hosts in the lead while shorthanded.

Unfortunately for the home fans, Yunost could not build on the lead. Instead they got stung by the Malyavko twins, who really made their breakthrough this season. Alexander Malyavko squared the puck to his brother Sergei who deflected it into the far corner; 1-1.

With newspaper journalists already preparing catchy headlines in case the twins would struck again, it was Lisichkin who put himself on the front page when scoring in overtime with one second left on the power play.

After the ceremonies, the Neman players lined up to salute and celebrate with the fans. Lisichkin watched from a little distance and smiled from ears to ears as he saw his team mates take the spot lights doing funny dances and diving acts. Even on a night like this, Mister Neman Grodno managed to do what he has done so well all his career; providing a spotlight for team mates to shine on.

JOERI LOONEN

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