Vitali Pinchuk may not have been able to celebrate to The Tragically Hip’s “Blow at High Dough” at the Leon’s Centre this year, but he was not away from hockey. The 19-year-old spent the season playing in Belarus, both in the KHL with Dinamo Minsk and in the Belarusian league with Metallurg Zhlobin.
On Friday, Pinchuk won the league’s award for the best young player, annually given to the top U20 player in the league who is eligible to play for the Belarussian junior team. To win, he beat out nine other nominated players, including Dinamo-Molodechno forward Alexander Suvorov.
The Frontenacs selected the Belarussian forward at the 2019 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft while also selecting Slovakia’s Martin Chromiak, who the NHL’s LA Kings selected in 2020.
At the ceremony on Friday, Pinchuk spoke to the crowd upon receiving his award, thanking the federation and the fans for making his first Belarusian season bright and memorable.
With Mettallurg, Pinchuk scored 15 goals and 16 assists for 31 points in 51 Extraliga games, while also scoring another 6 points in the Belarusian Cup. He was second to only the aforementioned Suvorov, but Metallurg dealt with quarantine for a portion of the season, and Pinchuk left to the Minsk in the KHL for that period.
In his first Ontario Hockey League season with the Frontenacs, Pinchuk scored at nearly the same rate, potting 34 points in 54 games.
While his 2020-21 production level would have likely landed him a spot on Belarus junior team, the second division of the IIHF U20 circuit did not happen due to COVID-19, despite the top division World Juniors forging ahead in Alberta.
Zhlobin finished sixth in their division and had the second-best record away from home. However, their play picked up in the playoffs, making it to the semi-finals, before losing in seven games to the eventual league champion Yunost Minsk.
One of the things that made Pinchuk likeable in Belarus was his funny interviews, which the Belarusian Hockey Federation spoke about in a story published on their website ahead of the awards ceremony.
From the entire Kingston Frontenacs organization, congratulations on the award Vitali!