23-12-09, MINSK – Belarus is the first nation to name its provisional roster for its men’s national team at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. New head coach Mikhail Zakharov named the 23-man roster only a few days after meeting the team for the first time at two exhibition games in Slovakia.
Zakharov’s roster looks similar to the teams that Belarus had at the 2008 and 2009 World Championships.
The roster is highlighted by four Belarusian NHL players. Colorado veteran defenceman Ruslan Salei, 36, is on the team, as is Toronto forward Mikhail Grabovsky, 25, and Montreal’s Kostitsyn brothers, Andrei, 24, and Sergei, 22.
Another pillar in the line-up will be Andrei Mezin. The 35-year-old goalkeeper helped Belarus reach the quarterfinals at the 2009 Worlds with a 94.77 save percentage that earned him the Best Goalkeeper award.
Mezin was also the hero when Belarus played the last time at the Olympics in Salt Lake City 2002. Thanks to a 4-3 victory in the quarterfinals against Sweden with 44 saves from Mezin, Belarus earned fourth place – the best finish ever in a major international competition.
Vancouver will be the third Olympics for Belarus after 1998 and 2002. Four players (Mezin, Salei, Antonenko, Koltsov) were part of the Salt Lake City team. Mezin and Salei will play their third Olympics.
In total, 14 players come from the KHL, seven from Dynamo Minsk, the Belarusian club in the Russian league. Five players play in the Belarusian Extraliga.
The other men’s provisional rosters for the Olympics will be announced through Jan. 1.
The final Olympic rosters will be registered on February 15 one day before the start of the tournament. After that date, no replacements are possible.