Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: July 26th, 2015

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Lyudmila Belyakova (#12) at work against France during the 2011 World Championship. (Image Source)

Another week closer to the beginning of the KHL season, now less than a month away, and there was lots more exhibition action in the last seven days.  Spartak Moscow made their return to competition, but it was not a successful one — they were hammered 6-1 by Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.  Forward Dmitry Maltsev, returning to Yaroslavl after a year with Metallurg Novokuznetsk, was the big hero in that one as he scored a hat-trick.  Early days yet, though.  Read on for some of the other things that happened this past week, including some interesting signings on both sides of the ocean!

We will start with a women’s hockey story.  As you may have seen, there is a new professional women’s league starting play in the United States this coming fall.  The National Women’s Hockey League will include teams in Boston, Buffalo, New York, and Stamford, Connecticut.  It will also, we discovered this week, include at least one Russian player!  Forward Lyudmila Belyakova attended the NWHL’s International Players Camp, and did well enough to earn a contract with the New York Riveters.  Belyakova, from Moscow, will be 21 years old when the new season starts, and has been a fixture on Russian national teams at various age levels for several seasons.

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Iya Gavrilova with the Calgary Dinosaurs. (Image Source)

There are some talented Russian women playing hockey in North America already — Iya Gavrilova and Alexandra Vafina were on the roster of the University of Calgary last season, and Gavrilova  was named the best female player in Canadian university hockey.  As for Belyakova, she is highly skilled, and more than willing to hurtle into the tough areas on the ice.  If all goes well for her with New York, we could very well see a number of other interesting young Russians on NWHL lineups.

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Sticking with the women’s game for a moment, a meeting was held this past week to discuss the upcoming Russian Women’s Hockey League season.  2015-16 will be the first season for the RWHL under the management of the KHL (the league’s official name will be “The Russian Women’s Ice Hockey Championship of the Kontinental Hockey League”).  There is apparently now an agreement on what the structure of the championship will be for next season, but details, and a schedule, have yet to be released.  I’ll put together an introductory post on the RWHL once we have more information!

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And, still on the topic of league organization, there has been a bit of a tweak to how the lower divisions in Russian hockey are run.  The third tier of men’s hockey in the country, known simply as the Russian Hockey League, suffered a decline in participation last season to the point that only nine teams took part.  To help get things going again, the Russian Hockey Federation has handed over administration of the RHL to the VHL, Russia’s second-tier league.  To judge from comments made by FHR President Vladislav Tretyak, the new competition will be directly aimed at cities and regions that cannot afford to support a high-level professional team, but have an active amateur or semi-pro hockey presence.

Details are still a bit short on this one, so there is some waiting be done.  However, it suggests that the FHR is moving towards a concentration on development of hockey in Russia, and on international hockey, while leaving the administration of the higher levels of the domestic game to others.

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To KHL transfer news!  Dinamo Riga got an unexpected early Christmas present this week when highly-touted young forward Miks Indrašis not only returned from North America, but re-signed for two years in the Latvian capital.  Indrasis had been invited to the New York Islanders’ prospect camp, with reports indicating that if he failed to catch on there, he was destined for Nizhny Novgorod and Torpedo.  Not the case, it would seem; Indrašis will likely be a Dinamo player for another couple of seasons at least.  The 24-year-old is coming off a season in which he scored a career-high 16 KHL goals, and has an overall line in the league of 152 gp, 42-46-88.

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Torpedo, thwarted in their desire for Indrašis, wasted no time in securing a replacement.  Winger Carter Ashton, a former 1st-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, has signed for a year in Nizhny Novgorod.  Ashton, now 24 years old, has been an AHL regular for several seasons now, and has a couple of brief NHL stints with the Toronto Maple Leafs on his resume as well.  His career AHL line is 192 gp, 56-47-103.  His size (6’3″, 216 lbs.) and a decent-enough scoring touch make him an attractive prospect for anyone, and he should be a feature player in the Torpedo lineup.

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Scott Glennie. (Image Source)

Ashton is only the latest player from the upper reaches of the AHL talent pool to sign on in the KHL this off-season, and he may well not be the last.  There is some talk that Scott Glennie, whom the Dallas Stars selected eighth overall in the 2009 NHL draft, may be close to signing with Slovan Bratislava.  Glennie, who plays right wing, scored 14-25-39 in 69 games for the Texas Stars last season.  Slovan, of course, got a late start on roster-building this off-season — the acquisition of Glennie may turn out to be an important one for them

Speaking of eighth-overall NHL draft picks, the 2006 example may be joining 2009’s in the KHL next season.  There are rumours around that Peter Mueller, former star prospect of the Phoenix Coyotes, may be suiting up for Sibir Novosibirsk in 2015-16.  The last two seasons have seen him playing for the Kloten Flyers in Switzerland — he had an excellent 2013-14 there (49 gp, 24-22-46), but slumped a bit in 2014-15 (34 gp, 10-7-17).  However, he is still only 27, so there’s still time!

The KHL situations with both Glennie and Mueller are still very much in the rumour stage, but definitely worth keeping an eye on!

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Some dire goings-on at Dinamo Minsk this week, as the club’s now-former General Director, Maxim Subbotkin, was arrested for corruption-related offenses.  Vladimir Berazhkou, who is also Dinamo’s General Manager, will take over Subbotkin’s post on an interim basis (we still wait to see who will take over Subbotkin’s seat on the Board of the KHL).  There is no evidence that the alleged mis-doings are hockey-related.

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Medveščak Zagreb also had a little bit of a tempestuous week.  The Croatian club’s former goalie, Mark Dekanich, sent out a series of tweets on Friday alleging that he was owed a third of a season’s worth of back wages by the team.  Furthermore, Dekanich suggested that some of his equipment had been stolen while he was in Zagreb.  Medveščak have admitted that they owe him money (no word on the equipment issue), but insisted that the situation was approaching a resolution when their former player went public.  Dekanich, a former prospect of the Nashville Predators who has represented Croatia in international hockey, signed in Zagreb in the summer of 2013, and posted an excellent .936 save percentage in 27 games for them the next season.  However, he fell of a cliff performance-wise in 2014-15 — his save percentage went down by 100 points, to .838, and he was let go after 12 games.  There is no word on where he will play this coming fall.

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Sabahudin Kovačevič. (Image Source)

It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Medveščak this week, however, as they have an intriguing defensive addition to look forward to.  Slovenian defenseman Sabahudin Kovačevič has signed a try-out deal with the team, a deal that could prove very useful indeed if all works out.  Kovačevič was a key part of the surprisingly good Slovenian team at the 2014 Olympics, and also did good work with VHL champions Saryarka Karaganda that season (44 gp, 9-12-21).  However, last season was a bit topsy-turvy for him, as he failed to settle in with Kuban Krasnodar, also of the VHL, made a brief return to Saryarka, and then finished the campaign with the Graz 99ers of the Austrian league.

I confess to being surprised that it’s taken this long for Kovačevič to get a KHL shot.  He’s big (6’3″, 209 lbs.), can score a bit from the blueline, and has a mean streak to boot (he was suspended for a game at Sochi for a bad hit).  Last season’s struggles may raise a red flag or two, but Kovačevič has a chance to be an excellent addition to the defense corps in the Croatian capital.

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Alexander Semin. (Image Source)

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In the NHL, meanwhile, one of the summer’s big stories involving a Russian player saw its resolution, as forward Alexander Semin signed a one-year deal with the Montreal Canadiens.  Like a number of the players discussed in this post, Semin is a guy with some excellent seasons in his past (he scored 40 goals for the Capitals in 2009-10) who had a terrible time in 2014-15.  He scored only 6-13-19 in 57 games for the Carolina Hurricanes last season — ghastly by his standards — and had his contract bought out when it was all over.  Questions have been raised about Semin’s work ethic throughout his career, including by his now-former employers, and even if there a suggestion of “enigmatism”* about all that, something very definitely went wrong in 2014-15.  He is also 31, so we have likely seen the best of him on the ice already.  However, Semin can score goals, a talent the Canadiens need quite badly right now (and 31 is not that old, even for an NHL hockey player).  This could, to mis-quote Humphrey Bogart, be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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We’ll finish off here by catching up with a name that is very familiar to hockey fans all over the world!  “Iron” Mike Keenan took over the coaching reigns at Metallurg Magnitogorsk prior to the 2013-14 season, and promptly guided the team to a Gagarin Cup championship.  While 2014-15 was less successful, the club has shown no desire to part ways with its coach, and the feeling seems to be very mutual.  It was reported today that Keenan, who has made no secret of the fact that he enjoys working and living in Russia, may begin the process of seeking citizenship in the country, with the support of the Metallurg organization itself.  Nothing official there yet, of course, but an interesting item nonetheless!

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There will be more news notes this time next Sunday, and before then you can look for a review here of the 2014 documentary film Red Army!

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*Enigmatism = the silly and all-too-common North American habit of labeling any skilled Russian hockey player as “an enigma” or “difficult” or “arrogant” or “lazy” or “soft,” etc. the moment he has two bad games in a row.  

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Posted on July 27, 2015, in 2015-16, KHL, NHL, VHL, Weekly News Notes, Women's Hockey. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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