VOJENS – Belarus’ Sochi 2014 dreams stay alive. They bounced back from the opening day loss against Slovenia and blanked Ukraine 6-0. Winless Ukraine is out of contention while the Belarusians focus on Sunday’s finale against host Denmark.
Enjoying considerable territorial advantage throughout the game, 13-ranked Belarus is now 1W-1L, while for the 0W-2L Ukraine (ranked 20th) the last game against Slovenia will carry no consequence.
"We felt we were not ready when we played Slovenia," said defenseman Vladimir Denisov from KHL Dynamo Minsk. "We had to respond against Ukraine and we did it well."
In the two games so far, Ukraine has failed to score a goal. They lost 2-0 to Denmark on Thursday. Goaltender Vitali Koval made 32 saves to preserve the shutout. But very few of Ukraine’s shots were real threats. The were outshot 45-32.
The game pretty well reflected the difference in quality that seven world ranking positions make. Five of Belarus' six goals were in even strength.
"In tournaments like these, ranking doesn't matter so much. You never know what the other team brings on a given night," said Vladimir Denisov.
Not happy with the team’s performance on Thursday, Belarusian coach Andrei Skabelka adjusted his lineup from the opening night loss against Slovenia by pulling captain Konstantin Koltsov and putting Sergei Damagin on the first line between Alexei Ugarov and Alexei Kalyuzhny.
It paid immediate dividends. Skabelka’s new unit struck already after 1:26 when defenseman Andrei Filichkin pinched in and one-timed Alexei Ugarov’s perfect cross-pass for the early lead.
Sergei Demagin had the best chance of doubling the lead with 2:40 left of the first period, but with Ukrainian goalie Yevgen Napnenko down, Demagin couldn’t get the puck high.
Captain Koltsov, on his hand, didn’t sulk over the demotion to the third line.
With his new friends, he doubled the lead midway through the game on exquisite goal where Koltsov, with some deft stickhandling, put the puck over the line while standing behind the extended goal line. The puck bounced off the stick of Ukrainian defenseman Mykola Ladygin, leaving goalie Napnenko without a chance.
1.34 later the outcome was all but sealed when Koltsov assisted on the 3-0 goal, although the main accolades go to defenseman Vladimir Denisov whose superb outlet pass found Andrei Stepanov, who blasted the puck over Napnenko’s left shoulder.
It was Stepanov’s second goal of the qualifier. The winger also scored the 2-2-goal against Slovenia in Thursday’s 4-2 loss. Alexei Kalyuzhny, Artyom Senkevich and Dmitri Meleshko (PP) ran up the score to 6-0 on garbage time.
So coach Skabelka was obviously happy with line tinkering.
"Of course I liked our performance better in this game than against Slovenia," said Skabelka. "We showed the desire, disciplin and we blocked shots."
But this win will only be good for Belarus if they will be able to build on it on Sunday, in the all-decisive clash against the host Denmark. At stake are 23 tickets to Sochi in February 2014.
"They are the home team, they will be ready, it's up to us to show that we are as ready as them," said the Belarusian coach.
Vladimir Denisov admits that the national team is under certain pressure:
"Our authorities have spent money on hockey in our country and they expect results. It is important that our team doesn't think so much about it. We must be relaxed."
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