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World Juniors 2016: Belarus team preview

Belarus will hope to do enough at the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championship to maintain a place among the world's best hockey nations.

Martin Rose/Getty Images

After winning the Division IA title last season to earn a promotion to the IIHF's Top Division, Belarus makes a return to the World Junior Hockey Championship after an eight-year absence, replacing Germany who was relegated after the 2015 tournament.

Belarus scored the most goals while also allowing the fewest at that qualification event to gain entry. Unfortunately the two players who finished first and second in competition scoring — Dmitri Ambrozheichik and Artur Buinitsky, respectively — have aged out of the under-20 bracket. As has that tournament's second-best goaltender by save percentage, Maxim Gorodetsky.

The team will play in Group B with Russia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Finland. The main goal for Belarus will be surviving relegation to maintain a place among the top 10 junior hockey nations.

Roster

# Player Position League Current Team
31
Ivan Kulbakov G Belarus Dinamo U20 / HK Gomel
20 Alexander Osipkov G MHL B
Yukost Minsk
25 Vladislav Verbitsky G Belarus Dinamo U20 / Shakhtyor Soligorsk
24 Daniil Bokun (A)
D Belarus Dinamo U20 / Shakhtyor Soligorsk
4
Stepan Falkovsky D OHL Ottawa 67's
9
Vladislav Goncharov (C) D Belarus Dinamo U20 / Shakhtyor Soligorsk
14
Sergei Romanovich D Belarus2
Dinamo U20 / Neman Grodno
5
Ilya Sushko D Belarus Dinamo U20 / Shakhtyor Soligorsk
2
Alexander Tabolin D Belarus Dinamo U20 / Yunost Minsk
3
Pavel Vorobey
D Belarus Dinamo U20 / Yunost Minsk
16
Andrei Belevich F Belarus Dinamo U20
18
Ilya Bobko F Belarus Dinamo U20
10
Dmitri Buinitsky F KHL Dinamo Minsk
13
Alexei Busko F Belarus2 Shakhtyor Soligorsk
19
Artemi Chernikov F Belarus Dinamo U20 / Shakhtyor Soligorsk
11
Dmitri Filippovich F Belarus Dinamo U20 / Yunost Minsk
22
Danila Karaban (A)
F Belarus Dinamo U20
27
Vadim Malinovsky F USPHL Premier
Okanagan
6
Alexander Patsenkin
F MHL B
Yunost Minsk
16
Alexei Patsenkin
F MHL B
Yunost Minsk
8
Yegor Sharangovich F MHL Dinamo Raubichi
26
Ruslan Vasilchuk F Belarus Dinamo U20
15
Grigori Veremyov F Belarus Dinamo U20

Belarus' finalized roster includes three goaltenders, seven defencemen and 13 forwards. The team decided to forgo the normal eight defencemen, 12 forwards strategy many European nations use, instead skewing the lineup to an offensive orientation that would help them score a late-game goal in a close contest.

Strengths

Artemi Chernikov, Dmitri Buinitsky, and Danila Karaban played top-line minutes in the pre-competition game versus Canada and had a few decent offensive chances. Six-foot-seven Ottawa 67's defenceman Stepan Falkovsky and five-foot-six pointman Vladislav Goncharov make up an effective (though odd-looking) first defensive pair. The duo received significant time in that tune-up game and will be Belarus' most dangerous offensive options from the back end.

Those players got the majority of power play time against Canada, and were able to score the team's only goal while up two men. They have the ability to score, and a team heading to the box as much as Canada did in that first pre-tournament game could find that out the hard way.

Weaknesses

After that top five-man unit, there isn't much skill to speak of. The Patsenkin twins have had success in under-18 competition for Belarus, and the second-pairing d-man Daniil Bokun had a competent outing versus the defending gold medallists, but those players couldn't handle the skill that Canada displayed against them, and will struggle to do so versus the talented forwards they will face in Group B action.

X-Factor

With focus on avoiding relegation, an opening-game victory over a Finnish team that seems to face a perennial struggle to score would go a long way to getting a playoff-round berth. That would allow Belarus to avoid the best-of-three relegation competition that could result in the team being sent back down to the lower ranks they've finally climbed out of. A poor group-stage showing by Czech Republic could make them a target for a surprise win on the last day of round-robin play.

Belarus' best chance of achieving success at the tournament will be to catch a team not playing up to its best standards. The team does not have the skill to contend for a medal, but may be determined enough to get the one win required to survive until reinforcements can arrive next year.