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Grabovski named captain of Belarus at world championship

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The Canadian Press
4/28/2011 12:56:28 PM
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KOSICE, Slovakia -- Mikhail Grabovski is hoping to use the IIHF World Hockey Championship for a little career advancement.

The Toronto Maple Leafs forward was named captain of Belarus on the eve of the tournament and admitted to feeling the weight of responsibility after Thursday's practice at Steel Arena.

"I think it's a little bit hard for me right now because I'm a first-time captain," said Grabovski. "Everybody, young players, look how I play and it's a little bit of pressure.

"But it's OK, it's the next level for my career and I think that will help me be stronger when I start playing in playoffs in the NHL."

The 27-year-old centre is coming off a career season that saw him register 29 goals and 58 points in 81 games for the Maple Leafs.

He's attending his sixth world championship and has brought along his parents -- an annual tradition for the family. While some NHLers decline invitations to take part in the tournament, Grabovski would never dream of doing such a thing.

"I love to play hockey and I don't want to finish season when somebody (else is) playing," he said. "I know NHL teams (are) playing right now.

"For me, I don't want to go on vacation because I want to play. I like hockey. I'm always happy to play for national team."

Belarus opens the event against Canada on Friday (TSN, 2:15 p.m. ET). Montreal Canadiens forward Andrei Kostitsyn has also agreed to join the team, but isn't expected to arrive in time for the game.

The tournament opener will offer Grabovski a chance to face three Toronto teammates -- goalie James Reimer and defencemen Dion Phaneuf and Luke Schenn.

"I have a chance to score (on) Reimer if he plays tomorrow," said Grabovski.

The country finished 10th at last year's world championship in Germany, but is hoping for a better result here. It placed sixth in 2006 -- thanks in part to nine points in seven games from Grabovski -- and would love to deliver that kind of performance for the country's passionate hockey fans.

No one is a bigger supporter than Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who plays the sport recreationally and has met Grabovski in the past.

"It's sport No. 1 in our country," said Grabovski. "(Lukashenko) always wants to win and I think all Belarusian people wants to win.

"We have a small country, but our country has a lot of great sportsmen."

Mikhail Grabovski (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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