Dynamo Minsk will make its second Spengler Cup appearance this year. The Belarusians seem to like this tournament: They won the title during their first appearance in 2009.
Belarus is a proud ice hockey nation. Hockey is the most popular sport in the country, that gained its independence in 1991; and since the Belarusians hosted the World Cup in 2014 and received perfect reviews in regard to infrastructure, organization, and enthusiasm, everyone in the hockey world is aware of that. So it was even more painful when the national team lost the Olympic qualifier against Slovenia on home ice in early September. It was the first major defeat of the year – not just for the Belarusian federation, but also for their flagship team Dynamo Minsk; the KHL team Dynamo has no fewer than 14 national team players on its roster.
Truly, Dynamo Minsk - founded in 2004 from Tivali Minsk, which had been disbanded 3 years prior – is considered somewhat of an unofficial national team. Since the KHL was founded in 2008 the club has represented the country in its neighbouring brother country Russia. Dynamo plays at Minsk arena, which opened in 2010 and holds 15,000 spectators, making it one of the biggest and most modern arenas in the KHL. The on-ice success has been limited. In eight seasons, Minsk qualified for the playoffs just three times (2011, 2012, 2015) and was eliminated in the round of 16 each time.
They came, saw, and conquered
However, is their track record at the Spengler Cup is quite different: Dynamo Minsk’s first and last appearance was in 2009 – immediately winning the tournament. Its squad then included hockey stars such as the two Finns Ossi Väänänen and Ville Peltonen, and the Slovak Richard Lintner. Aside from the Belarusian national title in 2007, it was that biggest success in their young club history.
Obviously the team would like to repeat that success. But it will not be able to count on any experience. Not surprisingly there are but four players remaining of the winning team: defenseman Ilya Shinkevich, the forwards Yevgeni Kovyrshin and Alexander Kulakov, and the former goaltender Andrey Mezin (now goaltending coach). Thus the face of the team now looks completely different, with stars such as Canadian goalkeeper Ben Scrivens, tenured defensive giant Lukas Krajcek, and former SC Bern offensive defenseman Marc-André Gragnani as well as Belarusian star forward Sergey Kostitsyn. Craig Woodcroft, who experienced the Spengler Cup last year as the assistant coach of Adler Mannheim, now coaches the team. All in all the Canadian can rely on a solid team that looks to figure in the middle of the KHL standings. Time will tell if that is sufficient to reach for the stars between Christmas and New Year. Yet it is certain that the former title winner is to be reckoned with.