Belarus opens with a win
Belarus opens with a win
Andrei Kostitsyn ends scoring drought
Fast forward 12 months, though, and AK-46 got right in on the act to shoot down Slovenia in his team’s opening game in Ostrava. A goal and an assist for the 30-year-old paced the Belarusians to a perfect start with a 4-2 win.
Kostitsyn's scoring was backed up by a solid defensive display that neutralized the threat of Slovenia’s LA Kings centre Anze Kopitar. The country’s lone NHL representative was so well marshalled that he could not deliver a shot on goal in the first two periods and his team-mates could only manage 10 over 40 minutes.
The game exploded into life with two goals in the 11th minute, and Belarus defenceman Dmitri Korobov was involved in both. First his mis-hit shot turned into a pass for Andrei Stas. The CSKA Moscow forward took a moment to weigh up the situation then ripped a wrist shot from the deep slot, beating the unsighted Robert Kristan as Alexei Kalyuzhny made a nuisance of himself in front of the net.
But almost immediately Korobov was left stumbling in the wake of Rok Ticar as the Slovan Bratislava frontman wrong-footed his opponent on the blue line. Ticar’s shot was saved but his club-mate Ziga Jeglic put away the rebound to bring Slovenia level after just 34 seconds.
"After tying the game we thought we could come back," Zeglic said. "Unfortunately, we weren’t tough in front of our net for the second goal they scored and things went their way."
The breathless trade in goals continued with Belarus regaining the lead in the 13th minute. Stas shot into Kristan’s pads and as the rebound got caught up in a tangle of skates Andrei Kostitsyn pounced to slide it through the goalies pads from a tight angle to claim his first World Championship goal since 2011.
That was the end of the scoring in the first session but Kostitsyn was instrumental in his team’s third early in the middle stanza. Released by his brother Sergei, Andrei overran the puck slightly and lost out as goalie Kristan came a long way from his crease. However, the puck broke straight to Kalyuzhny and the experienced captain was never going to miss an almost empty net to stretch the lead to 3-1.
At the opposite end of the ice Kevin Lalande had some sympathy with the goalie - and plenty of praise for Kostitsyn.
"Anytime a goalie comes out you take a risk but I think we have to give Andrei Kostitsyn a lot of credit for skating hard to that puck and forcing the turnover," he said. "It was a fortunate bounce for us."
Goalscorer Kalyuzhny later said he had worried he would miss out through illness but made it into the starting line-up. Andrei Kostitsyn admitted this would have had an impact on the team, especially following the absence of Mikhail Grabovski. "Of course it would have been a big loss. We trained together and we were worried that we would have to play without him. But good for him, he pulled through and in the end he did well for us."
Slovenia, well aware that a good start to the competition would be vital with exacting assignments coming up against Russia, Slovakia and Finland, battled on but looked short of fire power. The absence of Jan Urbas, the country’s leading scorer in last year’s promotion campaign, didn’t help: he reported flu-like symptoms on the morning of the game and had to sit this one out.
There was one opportunity to hit back deep in the second with Jan Mursak going close with a rush to his CSKA team-mate Kevin Lalande’s net, but he could only find the goalie’s pad and at the 40-minute mark the Belarusians were in complete control.
All that remained was to see out the game – but that meant withstanding a Slovenian surge early in the third period. Lalande had to be alert to a battery of shots thudded in from distance before finally pouncing on the loose puck after Blaz Gregorc looked to set something in motion on the wraparound.
Then Kopitar, in the 49th minute, finally got a shot on goal and almost put his team right back into the game as only a sprawling stop on the crease denied him.
Belarus was struggling to get out of its zone – by the midway point in the third Kristan had yet to make a save – and inevitably that pressure told. Ziga Pance got the breakthrough off a Tomaz Razingar pass with Kopitar also involved in the play.
For Slovenia head coach Matjaz Kopitar the late rally was an expression of what his team can achieve in this tournament. "Looking forward we want to play like we did in the third period. One period is not enough and the players know that, but in the end we had our chances and just couldn;t capitalise on them."
Slovenia's third goal put the game on a knife-edge for the remaining eight minutes and the pressure on Belarus intensified in the final 40 seconds as Lalande was called for tripping and Andrei Kostitsyn went to sit out the penalty. But it all went wrong for Slovenia as possession turned over and Alexander Kitarov raced away to wrap it up on an empty-net goal with 19 seconds left to play.
The large Belarusian contingent in the crowd went crazy as victory was confirmed and Kalyuzhny later paid tribute to the traveling fans. "Apart from when we played at home last year I can't remember ever having so many people come to support us. It helped us feel much more at home."
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