By Rocky Bonanno, NHL.com Staff Writer
The Belarusian Ice Hockey Association on Wednesday was the first of 12 nations to reveal its provisional roster for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
To no surprise, the roster includes the only four Belarusians currently playing in the NHL -- defenseman Ruslan Salei of Colorado, and forwards Mikhail Grabovski of Toronto and brothers Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn, both of Montreal.
The 23-man roster is also comprised of 15 players that represented Belarus at the 2009 IIHF World Championships and finished in eighth place, its best showing since placing sixth in 2006.
|2010 Belarus men's Olympic roster|
|G||Vitali Koval||Dynamo Minsk|
|G||Maxim Malyutin||HK Vitebsk|
|G||Andrei Mezin||Dynamo Minsk|
|D||Andrei Antonov||Shakhter Soligorsk|
|D||Andrei Bashko||Shakhter Soligorsk|
|D||Vladimir Denisov||Dynamo Minsk|
|D||Viktor Kostiuchenok||Amur Khabarovsk|
|D||Ruslan Salei||Colorado Avalanche (NHL)|
|D||Nikolai Stasenko||Amur Khabarovsk|
|D||Vadim Sushko||Shakhter Soligorsk|
|D||Alexander Syrei||Shakhter Soligorsk|
|F||Oleg Antonenko||Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg|
|F||Sergei Demagin||Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk|
|F||Mikhail Grabovski||Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)|
|F||Alexei Kaliuzhny||Dynamo Moscow|
|F||Konstantin Koltsov||Salavat Yulayev Ufa|
|F||Andrei Kostitsyn||Montreal Canadiens (NHL)|
|F||Sergei Kostitsyn||Montreal Canadiens (NHL)|
|F||Alexander Kulakov||Dynamo Minsk|
|F||Andrei Mikhalev||Dynamo Minsk|
|F||Andrei Stas||Dynamo Minsk|
|F||Alexei Ugarov||MVD Balashikha|
|F||Sergei Zadelenov||Dynamo Minsk|
Only five players play regularly in the Belarusian Extraliga. The remaining 14 play in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League and seven come from Dynamo Minsk, the only Belarusian entry in the KHL.
The roster was picked by head coach Mikhail Zakharov, who was hired by the federation last month to succeed Glen Hanlon. Last weekend he coached Belarus for the first time in two exhibition games, losing to Slovakia 4-2 and defeating Switzerland 2-1, in overtime.
Zakharov's assistants are former Soviet great Andrei Khomutov and Dave Lewis, formerly head coach of the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins.
Veteran Andrei Mezin figures to be the starting goaltender. The 35-year-old represented Belarus in its only two previous Olympic appearances, 1998 (seventh place) and 2002 (fourth place). A four-time Belarus Player of the Year (1998, 1999, 2005, 2006), Mezin is best known for making 44 saves to defeat Sweden 4-3 in the 2002 Olympic quarterfinals, one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history. In another career highlight, Mezin made 40 saves for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the first NHL-IIHF Victoria Cup game in 2008, a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers that was nearly an upset.
Most recently, Mezin helped Belarus reach the quarterfinals of the 2009 World Championships and earned the Best Goalkeeper Award with a 4-1 record, 1.72 goals-against average and a .948 save percentage.
Also participating in his third Olympics will be Salei, 35, who captained the squad in 2002. A back problem has limited the veteran to one game thus far in 2009-10, and he is currently on injured reserve. His availability is tentative at best, but if he can play he'll be one of Belarus' most important players.
The roster includes four players -- Mezin, Salei, and forwards Oleg Antonenko and Konstantin Koltsov -- who played for Belarus in its last Olympic appearance in 2002 in Salt Lake City.
Though all the teams participating in the Olympic tournament will be announcing their squads in the coming week, the final rosters will be registered on Feb. 15 at the IIHF directorate meeting, one day prior to the beginning of the tournament. After that date, no replacements are possible.
Zakharov issued a warning to these 23 players on the BIHA website. "It does not mean that those hockey players that are on this list definitely go to Vancouver. So it is not worth it to relax. For others, who did not get to this part, let this turn of events be an additional incentive to improve their game. The final composition, we will announce in February."
A surprising omission was Red Wings prospect Sergei Kolosov, a defenseman in his second season with Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League. But, Zharkov did say that Lewis, a former Red Wings coach, would scout Kolosov and make a recommendation on the player to the coaching staff before final rosters are submitted on Feb. 15.
2010 Belarusian Olympic team
Goaltenders (3): Vitali Koval (Dynamo Minsk), Maxim Malyutin (HK Vitebsk), Andrei Mezin (Dynamo Minsk)
Defensemen (8): Andrei Antonov (Shakhter Soligorsk), Andrei Bashko (Shakhter Soligorsk), Vladimir Denisov (Dynamo Minsk), Viktor Kostiuchenok (Amur Khabarovsk), Ruslan Salei (Colorado Avalanche, NHL), Nikolai Stasenko (Amur Khabarovsk), Vadim Sushko (Shakhter Soligorsk), Alexander Syrei (Shakhter Soligorsk)
Forwards (12): Oleg Antonenko (Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg), Sergei Demagin (Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk), Mikhail Grabovski (Toronto Maple Leafs), Alexei Kaliuzhny (Dynamo Moscow), Konstantin Koltsov (Salavat Yulayev Ufa), Andrei Kostitsyn (Montreal Canadiens), Sergei Kostitsyn (Montreal Canadiens), Alexander Kulakov (Dynamo Minsk), Andrei Mikhalev (Dynamo Minsk), Andrei Stas (Dynamo Minsk), Alexei Ugarov (MVD Balashikha), Sergei Zadelenov (Dynamo Minsk)