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Author: Chris McCluskey (RP Exlcusive)Date: 12/21/2004
U20 Team Belarus Tournament Preview

2005 U20 World Junior ChampionshipsU20 WJC COUNTRY PREVIEW
Number of returnees: Did not compete in 2004
Number of players lent from North American pro: 2 (Andrei Kastsitsyn, Hamilton AHL; Konstantin Zakharov, Worcester AHL)
Number of NHL drafted players: 4 (Andrei Kastsitsyn, Montreal; Konstantin Zakharov, St. Louis; Siarhei Kolasau, Detroit; Sergei Kukushin, Dallas)
Number of first round NHL choices: 1 (Andrei Kastsitsyn, 10th overall 2003)
Number of projected top-100 NHL draft choices in 2005: None
Anticipated Finish: 5th place, Pool A

This will be Belarus’ first appearance at the World Junior Championships since 2003 in Halifax. The Eastern Europeans saw themselves relegated after their last place finish in Nova Scotia, and recaptured the right to participate in the Under-20’s with a first place performance in Division One, Group B last season.

Interestingly enough, Belarus will see the core of its team return from two years ago in Halifax. Andrei Kastsitsyn and Konstantin Zakharov have been lent by their American Hockey League clubs, and Vadim Karaga – who split last season between the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires and London Knights – will also be on the roster. It is also worthy to note that Kastsitsyn (2 goals, 1 assist), Zakharov (1 goal, 1 assist), and Karaga (2 goals, 2 assists) were in on seven of eight Belorussian goals at the 2003 tournament.

All three forwards also played substantial roles in the Division One tournament held in 2004. Zakharov led the tournament with 14 points while Karaga posted 13, and Kastsitsyn was not far behind with 10 in helping Belarus retain its Under-20 status. Belarus will also have some NHL drafted talent to display in Grand Forks. The Detroit Red Wings picked up 6’4" defenseman Siarhei Kolasau in the fifth round of last year’s draft, while the Dallas Stars chose forward Sergei Kukushin in the seventh.

If Belarus is to be successful, however, they are going to have to count on these five players to carry the load. Depth is not a strength on the Belorussian roster - and even if Karaga, Zakharov, and Kastsitsyn play every second shift - they are still going to have to hope for a miracle not to be relegated again. With a win against Switzerland on Dec. 26th this might be in their grasp.

- Chris McCluskey

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