Belarus team holds first practice at the Big Hat

The Belarus national men's hockey team held its first practice Monday at the Big Hat, the main venue for the ice hockey tournament of the Nagano Olympic Winter Games.

The Belarus team will face Japan in the third game of the qualifying round of the men's hockey tournament Feb. 10 and is considered to be one of the stronger teams in the eight-nation opening round.

''The last time we played Japan was in the 1996 world championships in Holland and we beat them 7-2, but I'm not sure about their team now, I haven't seen them for a while and they may have changed,'' said Anatoli Varivonchik, the team's head coach.

Like Slovakia and Germany, Belarus has several players from the North American National Hockey League (NHL) but they will not be able to join their teams until the third game of the qualifying round due to their commitment to their NHL teams.

Vladimir Tsyplakov of the Los Angeles Kings and Ruslan Salei of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks are expected to join the Belarus team for the third game against Japan.

The top two teams from the qualifying round will advance to the final round where they will face Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden and the United States.

Prior to playing Japan, Belarus also will face France and Germany in the preliminary round of games.

(Kyodo News)

(February 2, 1998)