Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: August 10th, 2015.
Two weeks today until the opening of the 2015-16 KHL season! That means that we’re now getting down to Serious Business on the ice, with a number of pre-season tournaments on the go. Read on, and we’ll take a look at how those are going, along with some other bits and pieces of news!
It was a very impressive week for Avangard Omsk at the Governor’s Cup of Chelyabinsk Oblast, one of the major pre-season competitions. They began it by beating Metallurg Magnitogorsk 4-3, hung eight goals on the hapless Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, and defeated hosts Traktor on penalties shots. That put Avangard into the tournament final against Metallurg, and they repeated their opening-game result with a 5-2 victory. Nikolai Lemtyugov was the hero for the champions, scoring six goals in their four games. Metallurg ended up with the silver medal, while Avtomobilist defeated Traktor for the bronze. Full results are here.
With all the usual caveats about exhibition games, that bodes very well for the Omskians. Avangard have traditionally been among the KHL’s top teams, but shockingly missed the playoffs in 2013-14. They returned to a semblance of their usual selves last season, making the conference semi-finals, and are now showing signs of taking the next step on the road back to contender status.
Salavat Yulaev Ufa are another team that should having something to say about where the Gagarin Cup ends up in 2015-16, and they reinforced that notion by winning the Governor’s Cup of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast this past week. The boys from Bashkortostan rolled through the six-team tournament with a 5-1 record, their only loss coming to last year’s Gagarin Cup runners-up Ak Bars Kazan. Second place in the Nizhny Novgorod tournament went to hosts Torpedo (3-2, with an overtime loss in there), while Lada Tolyatti (3-2, two overtime victories) took third. Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk and the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl were the other teams taking part in this one. You can see the full results here.
The past week also saw two new KHL arenas open their doors for the first time! In Moscow, Dynamo inaugurated their VTB Ice Palace with the first edition of the Arkady Chernyshev Memorial Tournament. Sadly for the proud hosts, it was a bit of a disaster on the ice. Dynamo were beaten in turn by Dinamo Minsk, Amur Khabarovsk, and arch-rivals Spartak Moscow. Spartak won the tournament, with Amur second. There is a mild irony here in the fact that Spartak will be taking over Dynamo’s old home, at the Luzhniki Minor Arena.
Dynamo can console themselves with the knowledge that they will another crack at things at the VTB this coming week, when the Mayor’s Cup of Moscow opens on the 13th. That tournament will give them an opportunity for revenge over Spartak, while Vityaz and CSKA — the other two capital city and area teams — will make up the rest of the field.
Barys Astana, meanwhile, had guests over to help celebrate the opening of their new building with the President’s Cup of Kazakhstan tournament. Metallurg Novokuznetsk provided the opposition for the Barys’s first game at the Barys Arena, and the Astana team duly got the job done with a 4-2 victory yesterday. No such luck today, against Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk, as Barys were beaten 2-1. Admiral Vladivostok are the other team in the tournament, and they have already recorded victories over Ugra and Metallurg. The final games of the tournament will go ahead on Wednesday.
There are more tournaments to come, too. On the docket for the coming week, in addition to the afore-mentioned Mayor’s Cup of Moscow, are the following get-togethers (participating teams in brackets):
- Latvian Railways Cup, Aug. 16-20 in Riga (Dinamo Riga, Dinamo Minsk, Ak Bars, Lokomotiv)
- Ivan Romazan Memorial Tournament, Aug. 17-20 in Magnitogorsk (Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Traktor, Avtomobilist, Avangard, Sibir)
- Nikolai Puchkov Memorial Tournament, Aug. 17-20 in St. Petersburg (SKA, HK Sochi, Severstal, Jokerit)
There are any number of “one-off” exhibition games involving various teams going on as well.
There is also lots of international hockey happening at the moment, involving the junior and younger national teams. Russia’s U20 side was in Calgary this past week for the Summer Showcase, part of the preparations for this winter’s World Junior tournament. The young Russians split a pair of games against Canada, losing the first 4-1 before winning the second 3-2 in a shootout.
And the prestigious Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, for U18 teams, opened today in Bratislava, Slovakia. Russia was in action against the hosts, and came away with a tidy 5-2 victory. Daniil Veryayev, out of the Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod youth system, had a goal and an assist in the victory. The Russian U18 team is the one that will take part in the upcoming MHL season as a distinct club of its own, so it will be interesting to see how it gets on at this tournament. So far, so good!
And with that, we leave the on-ice doings for the time being. There was a little bit of administrative news this week: Jokerit Helsinki, the KHL’s only Finnish team, has reportedly moved the business and financial side of its operation to Switzerland. The reason for the switch is the recent addition of Jokerit’s part-owner Roman Rotenberg to the list of people sanctioned by the U.S. and E.U. over the Ukrainian crisis (Rotenberg has dual citizenship with Russia and Finland).
This should have absolutely no effect on Jokerit’s on-ice doings (nor on those of SKA St. Petersburg, where Rotenberg is a vice-president), but it’s interesting nonetheless.
The KHL will be taking its show on the road in 2015-16! It has been rumoured for some time that the new season would feature a regular season game in Italy, and this week we got some confirmation. It appears that the October 27th game between Spartak and Avtomobilist will be played in Turin, at the Olympic arena. Technically, it will be a home game for Avtomobilist.
It’s all speculation at this point, but we do have to wonder if this move signals a revival of the KHL’s plans to have a team in Italy. There was much talk, earlier in the decade, that HC Milano Rossoblu would join the circuit, and it got serious enough that the Milanese team was actually sporting the KHL logo on its uniforms in the Italian league. It never came to pass obviously, and the E.U. sanctions against Russia definitely complicate matters, but the possibility is there nonetheless.
Amur Khabarovsk have announced their intention of taking new VHL team Zvezda-VDV Dmitrov as their farm team for the coming season. Dmitrov is just north of Moscow, and it may seem odd for the KHL’s easternmost club to be storing its prospects 6000 kilometres away by air. However, direct flights between Khabarovsk and Moscow actually make for a more convenient arrangement than some other, closer, teams could offer.
One of the simmering issues hanging over the KHL these days involves the status of Belarusan players in the league. Last season, for the first time, Belarusans did not count as foreigners when they played for Russian teams — in other words, they did not count towards the teams’ five-foreign-player limit. It was generally assumed that the same would hold for this season, but that may not be the case. There has been a lot of chatter recently to the effect that the Russian Hockey Federation would reverse course, and “re-foreign-ize” Belarusans. If this does happen, it will pose some problems for teams that built their lineups around the assumption that players from Belarus would count as domestic, and would likely lead to some guys finding themselves suddenly out of work on the eve of the season. We’re still waiting for some kind of resolution, but it may be significant that the KHL will be holding a conference call tomorrow on some unspecified matter (thanks to Aivis Kalniņš for that news).
And we’ll finish off with a couple of brief transfer notes — with the season imminent, lineups are increasingly set, and there is less major movement of players going on. However, Admiral Vladivostok made a couple of interesting moves this week. First off, they signed forward Jonathan Blum, whom North American fans may recall was a late first-round pick of the Nashville Predators in 2007. Blum went 66 gp, 12-25-37 for the AHL’s Iowa Wild last season, and had one assist in four NHL games with Minnesota.
Admiral also signed goalie Igor Bobkov, who had found himself stuck in the ECHL in recent seasons (he was part of the Anaheim Ducks organization). He posted a decent .918 save percentage in the third-tier North American league in 2014-15. The 24-year-old Bobkov, who’s 6’6″ and weighs about 230 lbs., will likely compete with Andrei Stelmakh for the backup’s role behind Ivan Nalimov.
That will probably do for now! Enjoy the week, and the pre-season hockey, and the Weekly News Notes will be back next Sunday!