International Ice Hockey Federation

Gunning for glory

Gunning for glory

Olympic dream closing in for AK-46

Published 04.09.2016 09:30 GMT+3 | Author Henrik Manninen
Gunning for glory
Having missed out on their last appearance at the Olympics six years ago, Andrei Kostitsyn is now ready to fire Belarus to PyeongChang 2018.

Teaming up side by side on the Belarusian first line, the Kostitsyns have caused havoc out on the ice as a pair for the best part of a decade, but one thing setting them apart is participation at the Olympics.

While two year younger Sergei skated for his country at Vancouver 2010, Andrei was at the opposite end of Canada, part of the Montreal Canadiens organization and unable to play his part in helping the Belarusian cause.

"I was ready to play back then, but I had been injured and Canadiens didn't want me to go and instead wanted me to recover," Andrei Kostitsyn said.

Missing out on the Olympics six years ago, the older of the Kostitsyn brothers now stands on the doorstep to fulfil a career-long ambition of his at the age of 31.

With Belarus going head-to-head with Slovenia in Group D of the Final Olympic Qualification on home ice in Minsk, the math is simple with the winner of the contest heading east to PyeongChang 2018.

While opponents Slovenia field a roster bulked up to the brink of players who first steered them through Olympic Qualification in 2013, before a year later on the grand stage in Sochi sailed all the way to the Quarter Finals, the level of Olympic experience within the Belarusian camp is somewhat more humble.

"Most of us on the team haven't been to the Olympics, so this makes it an even more important game for all of us to win and get there," said Andrei Kostitsyn as Belarus hope to qualify for their fourth Olympics following their previous appearances in 1998, 2002 and 2010.

Only four on the current roster - Nikolai Stasenko, Alexander Kulakov, Andrei Stas and Sergei Kostitsyn - are left from last time around when Belarus finished ninth in Vancouver.

Additional Olympic know-how will be provided within the current coaching staff as assistant coach Oleg Antonenko and goalie coach Andrei Mezin will be able to tell them all about Olympic glory, having played in all three of the country's Olympic appearances, including the one that got the whole country buzzing as they finishing fourth in Salt Lake City 2002.

Back then Andrei Kostitsyn had just turned 17 and his unquestionable talent soon earned him a move away from his native Novopolotsk. Having caught the eye of CSKA in Moscow, he was then selected tenth overall by Montreal Canadiens in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Once crossing the Atlantic he racked up eight seasons within the Habs organization and a short spell at Nashville, often accompanied by his brother Sergei as his sidekick out on the ice.

With the duo having long since returned back to Europe with Andrei Kostitsyn having just entered his fifth straight season in the KHL, he is now together with his brother a vital cog in Belarus head coach Dave Lewis's ambition to try and build a more competitive unit while carefully introducing a new generation into the national team set-up.

Heading into the decider of the Final Olympic Qualification, Belarus can expect to be backed to the tilt by a sell-out crowd which Andrei Kostitsyn hopes will inspire him and his peers to be on the top of their game right from the outset this time around.

"We know we need to get a good start and not play like we did in our last two games," he said. "The good atmosphere will help us a lot in this game and I always like to come and play here with Belarus."

With his high praise of the crowd in Minsk Arena and with his brother recently signed for Dynamo Minsk, would he consider to one day regularly play in front of this passionate crowd wearing the blue and white of Dynamo and once again team up with his brother on club level?

"I like playing for my current club Sochi. They are a good team with good coaches, so I am very happy there. But who knows, maybe one day I might come and play here," he said.


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