International Ice Hockey Federation

Big crowds in Ostrava

Big crowds in Ostrava

Slovakia, Belarus thrilled by support

Published 03.05.2015 13:47 GMT+2 | Author Andy Potts
Big crowds in Ostrava
OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 2: Slovakia's Dominik Granak #51 celebrates with teammates after scoring Team Slovakia's third goal of the game against Team Denmark during preliminary round action at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Sunday’s clash between Slovakia and Belarus promises a special atmosphere in Ostrava.

The game pits the unofficial ‘hosts’ of the second venue against a Belarus team whose fans are energized by the excitement of staging last year’s World Championship and who have travelled in unprecedented numbers to support their team as it bids for a repeat of its 2014 run to the play-off stage.

Both nations began their campaigns Saturday in front of loud and colourful support – and more of the same is expected on Sunday when they go head-to-head in search of their second wins of the competition.

Amid the blaring of klaxons and a chorus of ‘Heja Slovensko!’ a little corner of the Czech Republic was reunited with its neighbour. A capacity crowd of 8,812 shrugged off the early start at Ostrava’s CEZ Arena – and the overwhelming majority was decked out in the red, white and blue banner of the unofficial co-host. Fortified by the ‘homemade Slovak dumplings’ on sale in the fan zone they travelled in hope, if not always in expectation, ready to roar on their team whenever it brought the puck over halfway.

In the fan-zone Dusan had made the three-hour drive from Bratislava to support his team. “We’re really enjoying being in Ostrava – it’s a great atmosphere and it really feels like a home game for us. I don’t really know what to expect from our team, though. We’re missing a few key players so we’ll have to wait and see.”

And so it proved: the road to Ostrava was a smoother journey than the tortuous path to an opening victory over and obdurate Denmark team that led for a long time and only succumbed in a shoot-out.

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Slovakia’s players were grateful for the vocal support in the arena. “It was a huge help for us with all that noise and all those fans,” said Yunost Minsk forward Patrik Lusnak. “They kept us going until the end.” And head coach Vladimir Vujtek – born near Ostrava and a successful player and coach with the local Vitkovice team – also spoke up to thank the fans. “We expected a full house and they were great today,” he said. “It puts some very big expectations on us but it means a lot to these players to have this support if things are going against us.”

Later the same day Belarus played its first game of this year’s edition and once again a lively crowd – many decked out in traditional Belarusian dress – came along to cheer their heroes to a 4-2 win over Slovenia.

Veteran Belarus captain Alexei Kalyuzhny, playing in his 11th top level World Championship, was thrilled by the numbers who came to Ostrava.

“It was really great,” he said. “Apart from last year when we played at home I can’t ever remember seeing so many people come to support us. We felt much more at home than ever before.”


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