It’s been a long road for Kazakhstan’s under-20 program over the past 10 years. In the IIHF’s Top Division for the World Junior Hockey Championships in 2008 and 2009, they struggled to even make the second tier of nations in the first part of this decade, finally snapping a three-year streak of finishing as the runner-up in 2015 to get back into the group that competes for a place in the main tournament.
It took two nail-biting contests at the beginning of last year’s Division IA schedule to get them here. They defeated eventual third-place finisher Germany in overtime in the first game of the event, and needed a shootout to get by Latvia in their second contest. That was a critical result in the end, as they finished one point ahead of the Latvians in the standings to earn their promotion.
Knowing how hard it was to get back, the Kazakhs are going to be eager to stick around for more than one year. As is typically the case for most of the teams making the jump, it’s not going to be an easy task.
Team Kazakhstan final roster
|20||Denis Karatayev||G||MHL||Snezhnye Barsy Astana|
|1||Vladislav Nurek||G||MHL||Altay-Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk|
|30||Demid Yeremeyev||G||MHL||Snezhnye Barsy Astana|
|7||Samat Daniyar||D||MHL||Snezhnye Barsy Astana|
|19||Yaroslav Khripkov||D||MHL||Altay-Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk|
|21||Artyom Korolyov||D||MHL||Snezhnye Barsy Astana|
|23||David Muratov||D||MHL||Snezhnye Barsy Astana|
|3||Ernar Musabayev||D||MHL||Snezhnye Barsy Astana|
|9||Valeri Orekhov||D||KHL||Barys Astana|
|24||Yevgeni Shinkaretsky||D||MHL||Snezhnye Barsy Astana|
|5||Oleg Boiko||F||MHL||Snezhnye Barsy Astana|
|6||Andrei Buyalsky||F||Kazakhstan||HK Temirtau|
|17||Sayan Daniyar||F||MHL||Snezhnye Barsy Astana|
|26||Ruslan Dyomin||F||Kazakhstan||HK Temirtau|
|15||Artur Gatiyatov||F||MHL||Snezhnye Barsy Astana|
|11||Dias Guseinov||F||MHL||Snezhnye Barsy Astana|
|12||Davyd Makutsky||F||MHL||Snezhnye Barsy Astana|
|25||Dmitri Mitenkov||F||MHL||Snezhnye Barsy Astana|
|18||Batyrlan Muratov||F||MHL||Snezhnye Barsy Astana|
|29||Maxim Musorov||F||MHL||Snezhnye Barsy Astana|
|27||Danil Tretyakovsky||F||MHL||Altay-Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk|
|28||Ivan Vereshchagin||F||Kazakhstan||Nomad Astana|
|8||Aidos Zhorabek||F||MHL||Snezhnye Barsy Astana|
There’s little doubt that Kazakhstan will have difficulty getting a win in the tournament. They’ll get thrown right into the fire on the second day, facing perhaps the best team at the event, Finland, to kick things off. Their best chance at a victory in Group B will come when they play Slovakia, but they’ll have to wait for the penultimate day for the preliminary round for that game.
That negates what could have been a strength for them. Many of the players have been playing together all season long for Snezhnye Barsy Astana of Russia’s MHL and know what to expect of one another. With Slovakia having a few games to get accustomed to their linemates and defence partners, including some pre-tournament contests as well, that advantage will be gone by the time their crucial matchup starts.
Many of the players who helped Kazakhstan qualify for the tournament are no longer eligible to play this year. The team that actually qualified for the tournament is no longer together to build upon their Division IA title.
Yet they do get some of the top players from last year’s team back in the fold, including the two who led the 2018 Division IA tournament in scoring. Forward Artur Gatiyatov had four goals and three assists in five games to claim the top forward award, and is just shy of a point-per-game pace in the MHL this season. As long as his 5’7”, 130-pound frame will allow him to make an impact among the world’s top Junior-aged players, he will be a key part of Kazakhstan’s offence. Joining him on the top line should be Sayan Daniyar, who just pips his small teammate with 38 points in 38 games versus Gatiyatov’s 37.
The other major returning player is defenceman Valeri Orekhov, who had one goal and six assists to get his country promoted, and has been playing in the KHL this season. There he has three goals and three assists in 24 games with Barys Astana, which is great production for a blue-liner who won’t turn 20 until mid-July. It could very well be his play, especially in that game versus Slovakia, that decides the fate of his team.