Historic World Junior Championship resultsKazakhstan has had a U20 national team since 1993 and played in the elite division for the first time five years later. In 1998, the Kazakhs beat Slovakia in the group stage but were demolished 14-1 by the host Finns in the quarter-finals. At the same tournament, however, they defeated Canada for the seventh place by a 6-3 score, which is still considered one of the greatest achievements in Kazakh junior hockey history.
A year later, Kazakhstan again reached the quarter-finals, but this time were beaten 12-2 by host Canada. The star of the team in those years was Nikolai Antropov, who later played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Atlanta Thrashers. Kazakhstan retained its membership in the elite division for another two years, but went winless in 2001 and was relegated following a loss to Belarus.
Back in the elite division in 2008 in Liberec, the Kazakhs gave tough battles to the USA and Russia and beat both Switzerland and Slovakia to finish eighth overall. In 2009, however, they were again relegated. For the next nine years, the Kazakh national junior team tried in vain to return their country to the elite group, finally doing so in 2018.
The fact that the team went up and stayed up shows the increasing quality of the youth program in Kazakhstan, where the local federation is trying to send its coaches to Europe and North America and to create above-standard relationships with other IIHF members. At the same time, their relationship with Russian hockey continues, as evidenced last year when two Russian assistant coaches (Andrei Shayanov and Ildus Gabdrakhmnov) worked with the team.
Last seasonAt the World Junior Championship held in the Canadian province of British Columbia, the Kazakhs were expected to finish last in their group and did. In Victoria, they started with losses of 5-0 to Finland and 8-2 to the USA. In a game they had to win to have a chance at the quarter-finals, they trailed Slovakia 6-0 by the first intermission and eventually lost 11-2. In their last group-stage game, they put up a fight against Sweden but still fell 4-1.
In the relegation series, Kazakhstan faced a Danish team that had spent several years in the elite division and seemed better on paper but had a very poor group stage, failing to score a single goal. In the first game, the Danes scored their first three goals of the tournament but Kazakhstan won 4-3 on a third-period goal. The second game was another tight affair, with Kazakhstan leading 2-0 late before a couple of empty-net goals made it a 4-0 final. With the win, the Kazakhs earned a place in the elite division in the Czech Republic for the seventh time in history.
Team starsThe Kazakh game plan won’t be based on individual stars but rather on team play, as the vast majority plays together in the Barys system. The team’s chemistry will be an important aspect if it’s to have any success.
However, this team will be led by certain players – particularly those who tasted some success last year at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. The goalie will be Vladislav Nurek, who plays for Ust-Kamenogorsk in the MHL. The group of forwards is led by Andrei Buyalsky and Oleg Boiko, who was captain of last year’s U18 team and this year’s MHL team in Astana, where most young talents from all over the country meet. The scouts will undoubtedly follow Denis Guseinov (also from the Barys system), who was the top scorer at last year’s U18 Division IA Championship.
CoachIn Trinec and Ostrava, Kazakhstan will be led by experienced Kazakh coach Sergei Starygin, who is in his third season in charge of the Barys junior team in the MHL (nicknamed “Snow Leopards” in English). He has thorough knowledge of the talent available to him in the Central Asian country, and personally knows most of the players on the national team. He previously worked with the U20 team in 2000, and has also coached the country’s U18 and university national teams. As a player, he played two seasons in the highest Soviet league for Kamenogorsk.
Team schedule26 December 2019: Switzerland – Kazakhstan 15:00
27 December 2019: Slovakia – Kazakhstan 15:00
29 December 2019: Kazakhstan – Finland 15:00
30 December 2019: Kazakhstan – Sweden 15:00