ROC tops Group A
by Andy Potts|01 JUN 2021
ROC's Nikita Nesterov celebrates his second-goal against Belarus with his teammates.
photo: Chris Tanouye / HHOF-IIHF Images
Team ROC secured top spot in Group A – and a quarter-final showdown against Canada – thanks to a powerful performance against Belarus. Five unanswered goals in the first period set the tone, and the Red Machine purred to a 6-0 victory. 

"It's good that we scored quickly in the first period, the game was done and we could ease off a bit," said Nikita Nesterov, who scored twice in that opening session. "We played comfortably and we could prepare for the quarter-final.

"We can get some rest and tomorrow we'll start thinking about Canada. It's too early to say anything about that now."

Defeat leaves Belarus in last place in the group, reprieved from relegation due to the suspension of the lower divisions this season. It’s been a tough return to the elite for a team relegated in 2018 in Copenhagen; a 1-0 victory over Sweden was a memorable highlight, but things went backwards fast and a loss to Great Britain plus heavy defeats at the hands of Switzerland and now ROC saw the team end the tournament in some disarray.

"It’s not a good feeling, we didn’t do what we came to do," said defenceman Ilya Shinkevich. "At the start of the tournament we could match some strong opponents. We won a game, tied another but then we played badly in our remaining games.

"The game against Great Britain shattered us. After that, we didn’t believe in ourselves against Denmark and lost in the third period."
ROC vs Belarus - 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
ROC BLR 01 JUN 2021
Young Belarusian goaltender Konstantin Shostak got the start tonight. Prior to this game, he allowed four goals in 30 minutes of play to stand 0-and-2. This evening, his tough championship continued: he was out of the game inside five minutes after allowing two more in just three shots.

Nikita Nesterov was the first to score on him, opening ROC’s account after 36 seconds. And the 21-year-old Severstal Cherepovets goalie was a little unfortunate when an Emil Galimov shot was deflected past him off a defenceman’s skate to double the lead on 4:29.

That brought another youngster to the crease as 19-year-old Alexei Kolosov took over. The teenager made a handful of KHL appearances with Dynamo Minsk this season and is regarded as one for the future. Today, though, he was beaten within five minutes of his arrival when Maxim Shalunov touched home an Ivan Provorov point shot. Like Galimov before him, Shalunov potted his first of the tournament, and the CSKA Moscow man will get a boost from finding the net after spurning some big chances in earlier games.

Things got even worse for Belarus when Mikhail Grigorenko fired home number four after some good work from Dmitri Voronkov. Mikhail Zakharov challenged the call, claiming that Anton Slepyshev interfered with Kolosov, but the video review upheld the on-ice decision and the Bison found themselves on the PK with a bench minor.
Belarus killed that penalty but fell further behind when Nesterov potted his second of the game. The Calgary man is listed as a defenceman, but he showed instincts that would credit any forward when he skated onto Vladimir Tarasenko’s pass and got up close with Kolosov before making it 5-0.

Team orders in the first intermission were simple: head coach Valeri Bragin gave the instruction not to let the concentration drop. However, the pace noticeably slackened in the second period. After firing 17 shots in the first period, the ROC offence was limited to just four attempts in the second. And Belarus was almost presented with a goal late in the session when an uncharacteristic error from Dmitri Orlov presented the puck to Mikhail Stefanovich in front of the Russian net. Alexander Samonov got a glove to the shot to keep his goal intact.

"Psychologically it was tough when we were up 5-0," said Grigorenko, who finished the game with a goal and two helpers. "Everyone knew that the game was done. We tried to keep playing the right way, keep creating chances, but we have to give credit to Belarus. It’s good that we helped Samonov get the shut-out."

That pattern continued in the third, with team ROC’s offence continuing to look sluggish. Belarus worked hard to get at least a consolation goal, with Stepan Falkovski almost redirecting a shot past Samonov before, on the power play, Nikita Komarov’s angled effort was padded away.

That stung the Russian offence into life once more and Voronkov potted a sixth goal after Slepyshev stormed down the wing and picked out his young colleague in space in front of the net.

There was time for one more Belarusian chance, but Samonov denied Geoff Platt's breakaway effort to secure his second shut-out of the tournament with 19 saves.

Belarus goes home now, but will prepare for Olympic qualification action in August. 

"It’s hard to say what we need to change to get through Olympic qualification," added Shinkevich. "We need to think about what happened at this tournament. We need to take a cold-blooded look at our game, our preparations."

Belarus nominated goalie Danny Taylor, defenceman Dmitri Znakharenko and forward Yegor Sharangovich as its three top players in Riga.

Today was the first time that supporters were allowed into the arena at this World Championship. Most spectators wanted to see Latvia's qualification battle against Germany, but team ROC had a solitary supporter of its own, one Andrei from Riga. 

And his presence was noted by head coach Bragin. "Of course we are happy to see him here," he said. "Hopefully when we play Canada we will see many more of our fans getting behind us, and we will try to give them a performance to be proud of."
ROC vs Belarus - 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship