Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: July 19th, 2015
We’re back with another edition of the Weekly News Notes, after a little hiatus to try to figure out how to make it work a little better from a writing point of view. Just in time, too — the first exhibition game of the 2015-16 KHL season was played today, as Dinamo Minsk took on Belarusan Extraliga side Yunost Minsk. In the end, it was Yunost that took it, by a score of 3-2. Elsewhere, teams are back in training camps, with more pre-season action on the way as the league heads towards its August 24th opening night.
More news below the jump!
Schedules! The KHL’s 2015-16 calendar came out a couple of weeks ago, and as noted above, the new season will begin on August 24th, a couple of weeks earlier than normal. The reasons for this have to do with the reintroduction of the mid-season breaks for the Euro Hockey Tour, the first of which will begin on the 3rd of November and last for about a week. Opening day will feature one game, between SKA St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow.
The second-tier VHL has also released its schedule, and its new season will start on September 8th. The minor pro league will have 26 teams in 2015-16, having lost two (Kuban Krasnodar and HK Lipetsk) and gained four (the new teams will play in Dmitrov, Saratov, Chekhov, and Voskresensk). Once we get a little bit closer to opening day, there will be a closer look at the VHL here at the blog. There are still a couple of things to check on, but the Big Map will be updated this coming week to reflect the various changes.
We now await schedules from the junior MHL and from the Russian Women’s Hockey League.
The biggest personnel move in Russian hockey this past week actually happened in the boardroom. Arkady Rotenberg has stepped down as President of Dynamo Moscow to take up a post with the Russian Hockey Federation. Given Rotenberg’s business and political connections (he is the owner of oil and gas industry construction company SGM as well as a personal friend of Vladimir Putin), it is likely that he will be working on the fund-raising side of things, as the Federation steps up youth development of the sport in Russia.
What the move will mean for the sometimes-fractious relationship between the FHR and the KHL remains to be seen.
A random thought: what is going on with Ilya Nikulin? The longtime defensive rock for Ak Bars Kazan was cut loose at the end of last season, despite a career-high 13 goals, and startlingly remains unemployed as camps begin. His age (33) may have something to do with it, and Nikulin will certainly not be a cheap signing, but he would be a tremendous addition to just about any team in the league. For that matter, there a lot of NHL teams that could use him too, but there does not seem to have been any interest from that quarter either. For now, we wait.
Former NHL sixth-overall draft pick Gilbert Brulé will be staying in the KHL for another year, having signed a deal with Medveščak Zagreb. Brulé, you may recall, actually retired from hockey in January of 2014 while with the Phoenix Coyotes organization, but changed his mind a few months later and signed with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. While he enjoyed his time in Yekaterinburg, injuries affected his 2014-15 season, as a stats line of 10-4-15 in 44 games demonstrates. However, Brulé is only 28, and likely has some good hockey still in him — it’s a nice signing for Medveščak.
The Kostitsyn brothers, Andrei and Sergei, will play together this coming season for the first time since 2011-12, when they were team-mates with the Nashville Predators. The two forwards, who hail from Novopolotsk in Belarus, have inked deals with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. Andrei, the elder of the pair (he’s 30), had a rough start to the 2014-15 season at Traktor Chelyabinsk, scoring only four points in 12 games. However, after moving to HK Sochi, he went on a tear, scoring 11-20-31 in 37 games for the Black Sea club. Sergei spent the entire year with Ak Bars Kazan, and had a line of 49 gp, 7-20-27.
The Kostitsyns have talent, and should help boost the scoring in Nizhny Novgorod. However, questions have been asked in the previous hockey ports of call about off-ice matters, so Torpdo’s Head Coach Pēteris Skudra may have something to keep an eye on there.
After only confirming their ongoing KHL membership at the very last minute, Slovan Bratislava have had to scramble to get a competitive lineup together for the new season. So far, however, they seem to be doing a fine job of it, particularly as regards their goaltending. After signing long-time Traktor Chelyabinsk ‘keeper Michael Garnett at the beginning of July, the Slovaks looked to Canada again this week in acquiring Barry Brust. Brust split last season between Medveščak, where he was excellent, and Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk, where he was just ok. At a guess, Garnett will get the nod as the team’s first-choice starter, but the two goalies could easily end up platooning.
The two new netminders at Slovan signal the end of Denis Godla’s time with the club – he has been released by mutual consent. Godla, you may recall, was named MVP of the most recent World Junior tournament, when he backstopped Slovakia to a most unlikely bronze medal. He’ll turn up somewhere, and it will be interesting to see where that is!
Dinamo Riga also had a late start to the summer signings, and so are still patching holes. This past week, they hired German forward Felix Schütz, who had a nomadic time of it last year — the 27-year-old played 27 games for Admiral Vladivostok and Avangard Omsk, scoring 11 points, and also spent some time in his home country’s league. Dinamo will be hoping that can recreate what he did with Admiral in 2013-14, when he scored 16-22-38 in 54 games. In any case, he looks certain to be a big part of the Riga team’s attack in 2015-16.
That Latvians have also availed themselves of the services of journeyman forward Tim Sestito. Sestito has 101 games of NHL experience over the past seven seasons, having recorded eight assists over that span. Most of his career has been spent in the AHL, where he had a 2014-15 line of 58 gp, 10-15-25 for the Albany Devils. Those are useful if not spectacular numbers, and he should find a role with Dinamo.
Some rumours floating around this week that forward Vadim Shipachyov and defenseman Maxim Chudinov, both of SKA St. Petersburg, will be headed to the NHL in the summer of 2016. Chudinov is a 2010 draft pick of the Boston Bruins, while Shipachyov was never chosen. Both players definitely have the potential to be big additions to an NHL team, but that’s a matter for next year.
Speaking of SKA, the furor over Coach Andrei Nazarov and his alleged thumping of the team doctor has died down a bit, although we still don’t know exactly what happened. Dr. Yegor Kozlov is out of hospital, and a termination settlement with the team has been negotiated.
We’ll finish off with the resolution of one of the off-season’s big transfer sagas! Dynamo Moscow are moving to the brand-new VTB Arena for the new season, and Spartak Moscow will be using Dynamo’s old digs at the 60-year-old Luzhniki Minor Arena. This rink-shuffle has caused many to wonder what would become of the redoubtable Mashka, the little orange cat that roams the halls of the Luzhniki and is a close friend of former Dynamo Head Coach Olegs Znaroks. Would she accompany her team to their new home, or remain at the Luzhniki and become a Spartak cat?
We have our answer, and it appears that Mashka will be taking up residence in the VTB! “She is our biggest fan,” said Dynamo defenseman Alexander Osipov, adding: “it is impossible to give her to Spartak.” We look forward to seeing how Mashka settles into her new home!
More news notes next Sunday, and there will be other bloggings in the meantime!