The longest night in Belarus
by Andy Potts|11 MAR 2021
The Neman Grodno players celebrate after scoring the national record winning goal.
photo: Vitali Harbatsiuk / BIHA
If you’re planning to watch HK Gomel in playoff action in the Belarusian Extraliga, it might be worth clearing your diary for the following morning. In the early hours of Thursday, Gomel and Neman Grodno completed the third longest game in hockey history when Neman grabbed a 2-1 win in the sixth period of overtime. And it was second time in six years that Gomel played more than 160 minutes in a playoff game.

This week’s marathon began on Wednesday evening at 19:00 local time. The teams were locked at 1-1 after 60 minutes and needed almost twice as long to settle the outcome. By the time Krystian Dziubinski scored on Maxim Lubski to give Neman the verdict, it was 1:52 on Thursday morning and the teams had played 169:04.

For Gomel head coach Sergei Stas, it was his second experience of going to a sixth period of overtime. He was a player on the 2015 team that lost to Yunost Minsk on a Vitali Kiryushenkov goal on 165:11. Now, he’s hoping it won’t happen again.

“In some ways, it’s a bit of a mockery of the game,” he said in the early hours of Thursday morning. “Maybe it would be worth putting a limit on how much overtime we play. Instead of going on for six periods, perhaps we need to think up some kind of shoot-out. Finishing at 2am is just...”

Late drama

It was almost very different, though. After falling behind to an Artur Buinitski goal late in the first period, Gomel trailed until the 58th minute. Then the home team got a power play, and German Nesterov set up Igor Revenko at the back door to tie the game... and lay the foundation stone for the longest game in Belarusian hockey history.
The winning goal came with 10:56 left in the ninth period.
photo: Vitali Harbatsiuk / BIHA
There was no shortage of action – two fights in regulation, and a string of missed chances. Stas lamented Gomel’s misfortune after six efforts hit the piping, Neman also dinged the iron when a goal might have settled the issue far earlier. Home goalie Lubski, just 20 years old, stopped 67 shots in the game, his opposite number Maxim Gorodetski had 78 saves. And finally Dziubinski, Poland’s captain for last year’s Olympic Qualification success in Kazakhstan, delivered the winning goal when he collected a pass on the blue line, found space to move forward to the top of the circle and smash the puck past Lubski. Even then, it wasn’t quite over. When Dziubinski collected the puck, he was right on the blue line, and the officials checked the video for offside before the goal could stand.

Dziubinski has prior experience of playoff marathons. Earlier in his career, his Podhale Nowy Targ team was involved in a seven-period battle with GKS Tychy in a Polish Championship semi-final. On that occasion, though, Dziubinski finished on the losing side.

“Today, I told myself we had to win,” Dziubinski told the Belarusian Ice Hockey Association’s website. “We all understood that it would be very hard for a goalie to keep going for nine periods. When I got my chance, I thought that a hard shot was the best thing to do in that situation. I didn’t try to outwit the goalie with a wrist shot and I didn’t want to go one on one because there was already a Gomel defenceman closing on me.

“I just kept it simple, and it all worked out.”

A winning diet

This Belarusian battle is the third-longest in hockey history, and the second longest in the modern era. Only the epic Norwegian clash between Storhamar and Sparta Sarpsborg, won by the home team in the eighth overtime after 217:14, has taken longer since WWII. On that occasion, Storhamar kept up its energy levels with pasta and pizza during the intermissions. Neman, though, opted for a different diet.

“We ate chocolate, bananas, fruit,” Dzuibinski said. “And we were drinking isotonics, but there wasn’t any pizza.

“The coaches just told us to keep it simple and that we would get our chance. It was really long, but we stayed patient, kept working and we were all together, believing that we would win.”

Dzuibinski’s comments came in a telephone interview from the team bus on its way back to Grodno, where the series continues on Friday with Neman up 3-2. Head coach Andrei Sidorenko admitted that the record-breaking battle forced him to change plans.

“We wanted to have a skate on Thursday to help everyone recover from today’s game, but that’s going to change,” Sidorenko said after the game. “We need to rest – and don’t forget that we have 600 kilometres to travel, which is another challenge. But what can we do? It’s the same for everyone.

“Psychologically, things are a little easier for us after this victory. It gives us more confidence.
Stas unworried by 2015 hangover

That psychological aspect was reckoned to be part of Gomel’s failure to recover after its marathon loss in 2015. However, head coach Stas is confident that this won’t be an issue for the class of 2021.

“That was a long time ago, and I don’t think it’s true to say we were mentally beaten,” Stas said. “But we’re not going to look to the past, we need to think about the next game. Today’s game is already history, so we’ll get ready for Friday.

“We talked after the game and there was no despondency. I’m proud of the way we battled today. We were just a little unlucky. We skated well, the guys gave everything, and we looked OK on every line. Now the important thing is to recover. That won’t be easy, but we did a lot of good work back in pre-season and I think everyone will be ready. We have a few players who are fresher, and they might get a chance in Grodno so that our skating doesn’t deteriorate.”

Game six of the series takes place in Grodno on Friday, starting at 19:00 local time. Victory for Neman would seal the series.

Longest hockey games in history:
  1. 2017, Norway, Storhamar Hockey vs. Sparta Sarpsborg, 217:14 (Story)
  2. 1936, NHL, Detroit Red Wings vs. Montreal Maroons, 176:30
  3. 2021, Belarus, HK Gomel vs. Neman Grodno, 169:04
  4. 2008, Germany, Kolner Haie vs. Adler Mannheim, 168:16
  5. 2015, Belarus, Yunost Minsk vs. HK Gomel, 165:11