Friday, January 03, 2014
AMHERST — While most of his University of Massachusetts hockey teammates head home for holiday activities and get away from hockey for a few days, junior defenseman Oleg Yevenko will head home to Belarus and compete for his country’s national team.
After UMass’ loss to Denver on Tuesday, Yevenko flew to Switzerland and will be in uniform for the four-team Arosa Challenge. Belarus will face Slovakia on Friday, and either Switzerland of Norway on Saturday. The event will give the 6-foot-7 defenseman a chance to impress his country’s governing body and improve his chances of making the national team that will play in next summer’s IIHF World Championship, which Bealrus is hosting in Minsk.
“I’m really excited. It’ll be a great experience I think,” Yevenko said. “Where I come from, it’s the No. 1 sport in my country. With the world championship in my hometown, if I’m able to make the team, that’d be great. My family is really excited, especially my dad, who is a big fan of the national team.”
UMass coach John Micheletto was excited for his defenseman.
“It’s a great thing for him, a nice honor to be part of your team’s national team program,” Micheletto said.
Yevenko will be back when UMass returns to action against No. 8 Quinnipiac at the UConn Hockey Classic on Dec. 29.
Yevenko represented Belarus in under-18 events and was in the system as an under-21 player, but didn’t compete in any U-21 events because of conflicts with his junior team. The timing off this tournament was ideal.
“A little over a month ago, I got an email saying that I could come for a tryout. Since the tournament is scheduled right over Christmas break, it kind of works out perfectly,” he said. “It’s a great way to stay in shape.”
Micheletto said being in shape this season has allowed Yevenko to take a big step forward in his game.
“He had a great summer. He’s leaned up an awful lot,” Micheletto said. “Him losing 20-plus pounds and getting in much better shape has been really helpful. He’s really worked hard at learning how we want him to play.”
Belarus was already eliminated from contention to play in the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February. Yevenko said while it wasn’t his primary focus, he’d like the opportunity to play in a future Olympics.
“I wouldn’t say that’s my priority in terms of my hockey development, but somewhere along the way I want to be good enough to be part of my national team,” he said.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage