International Ice Hockey Federation

He’s got hockey in his soul

He’s got hockey in his soul

Martynov hopes to play for Belarus in Victoria

Published 29.12.2017 09:52 GMT-5 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
He’s got hockey in his soul
BUFFALO, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 26: Belarus forward Igor Martynov #12 during a game against Sweden during the preliminary round of the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
There are many good reasons to go to Victoria, the co-host of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship with Vancouver.

However, Igor Martynov didn’t head to the British Columbia provincial capital to smell the roses at the world-famous Butchart Gardens, enjoy afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, or admire the stuffed woolly mammoth at the Royal BC Museum.

Instead, the Belarus right wing, speaking through a translator, had a simpler explanation of why he came over to play for the WHL’s Victoria Royals this season: “After the World U18 Championship in Slovakia, I received an offer to play for this club, and I agreed to it.”

At that 2017 tournament, Martynov stepped up as an assistant captain with three goals and four assists, and Belarus survived for another U18 year after defeating Latvia in the relegation round. He was also on the Division I Group A U20 squad in Bremerhaven, Germany that got Belarus promoted to this year’s World Juniors with four wins and an overtime loss.

The Royals were happy to get the 18-year-old with the 30th pick in the 2017 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft.

Although he’s pointless through two games in Buffalo, the fleet-footed, shifty Martynov has settled in nicely with Victoria, chipping in 12 goals and 13 assists in 34 games. He’s happy to give credit to first-year Royals coach Dan Price for some of his success: “He’s very wise and clever. I really appreciate working with this coach.”

Price has some large shoes to fill after taking over from Dave Lowry, a two-time WHL coach of the year who led Canada’s World Junior team in 2016 in Finland and joined the L.A. Kings in May as an assistant. Similarly, it’ll be tough to match the comforts of Buffalo’s Key Bank Arena at next year’s World Juniors, but according to Martynov, fans will be in for a treat when they visit the 7,000-capacity Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre – the home of the Royals – for group games.

“I think the arena is really great, and the spirit of the fans will help the players to play,” said Martynov, who is one of four CHL players on the Belarus roster. The 187-cm, 85-kg forward is playing on a line with Ivan Drozdov and Ilya Litvinov, both products of Yunost Minsk.

This Krasnoye native has logged a lot of time on the road lately, and he’s had a bunch of different jersey numbers too: #7 at the U18, #12 at these World Juniors, and #15 with the Royals. Does he have a preference?

“It doesn’t matter. The main thing is what is inside your soul.”

When Belarus hosted the 2014 IIHF World Championship, it took an approach that was both soulful and numerical. Banners and signs celebrating the tournament festooned the capital city of Minsk as the host nation achieved a surprising seventh-place finish and a then-total attendance record of 640,044. And who can forget Volat, the rambunctious yet lovable bison mascot?

Martynov has his own memories of 2014: “I remember how Russia became the winner, and I appreciated the great atmosphere. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend any games because I was at a training camp. But I watched every game on TV.”

Who was Martynov’s favorite player when he was growing up?

“Patrick Kane. He’s got great stickhandling. I really like it.”

Perhaps taking some inspiration from that Buffalo-born superstar will help Martynov in his quest to keep the Belarusians in the elite division for the 2019 World Juniors. After all, if they requalify, he might get to represent his country on his Victoria home ice.

But for now, he must focus on the two upcoming group games. Russia, which has medaled every year since winning gold in Buffalo in 2011, is the next opponent on Friday.

“I think Russia will show us a really aggressive game,” said Martynov. “We should play from the first minute of the game to the last, and that will show in the result.”

To put it in a Victoria context, Russia is the woolly mammoth here, having beaten Belarus in all six previous World Junior meetings. So if Martynov and his mates can pull off an upset, they’ll definitely deserve some roses and afternoon tea.

 

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