The newly promoted Belarusians are making their first top-level appearance since 2007 and just their seventh all-time. Teams like this typically struggle at both ends of the rink. So a bravura performance by the 200-cm, 102-kg Ottawa 67’s defenceman would be a godsend. Just ask Belarus coach Alexander Beliavski, a former Latvian scoring star in the Soviet league, the Swedish Allsvenskan, and the World Championships.
“We’re counting on him to be a leader,” Beliavski told IIHF.com after his team’s final practice on Christmas Day at Hartwall Arena. “Of course, he came from Canada, and we hope he can make the team better, bringing some confidence for our guys. We play in different leagues. He recognizes the Canadian style, and we hope he can make a good influence on the team.”
While Falkovski might not be making Ottawa headlines like new Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, he has stood as tall as the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill so far with the 67’s.
As an OHL rookie, the Minsk native leads all Ottawa defencemen in scoring (7-10-17 in 32 games) and has a team-high +10 plus-minus rating. The 67’s captured the Memorial Cup, emblematic of Canadian major junior hockey supremacy, in 1984 and 1999, and Falkovski would love to bring the title back to the Canadian capital.
“I really wanted to go to North America,” Falkovski explained. “I was lucky that my hopes were realized. I’m playing for a good team, and I’m glad to be with them.”
Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Last season, he helped Belarus secure promotion to the elite division, going unbeaten in five games at the IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group A in Italy. Now he’s ready for a new challenge in Helsinki, taking on the stacked host team in their 26 December opener.
“It’s really cool,” Falkovski said. “I feel it will be a really high level at this tournament, and it will be for the first time in my life. We are in a good mood and really prepared for the game with Finland.”
Since Canada is playing in the other group at the Helsinki Ice Hall, Belarus would have to overachieve spectacularly to get a crack at the defending champions. Canada thumped Belarus 7-1 in an exhibition game in Imatra on 19 December, with 67’s captain Travis Konecny tallying the eventual winner.
“Canada has a really good team, and Konecny is a good player,” said Falkovski. “We just saw how they play during our friendly game a few days ago. We saw a big level of play in that game.”
Falkovski also witnessed the world’s best as a spectator when the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship came to his hometown for the very first time in 2014. He attended two games, including France’s historic 3-2 shootout shocker over the Canadians, and Canada’s 4-3 win over the Czech Republic.
That tournament set a new attendance record (640,044), which stood until the Czechs topped it this year (741,690), and Belarus surprised the sceptics by coming seventh on home ice.
“Because of that tournament in Minsk, attention on ice hockey in our country rose,” Falkovski said. “More people started to get interested and watch ice hockey games. Ice hockey in Belarus was really popular before the World Championship in 2014, but after that, it became even more popular.”
Away from the rink, the Yunost Minsk product likes to relax by hitting the sauna or catching a movie. But right now, this big man is 100 per cent focused on his team’s objectives.
“We have two goals. The minimum one is to keep our place in the elite division. Our biggest goal is to get to the playoffs.”
If he’s even half as good as certain towering defencemen who often win the hardest shot competition at the NHL All-Star Game, maybe those goals will come to fruition.