Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: August 30th, 2015
The 2015-16 KHL season, the eighth campaign in the league’s history, got underway this week, amidst the kerfuffle relating to foreign players (that latter ongoing episode has grown beyond the status of mere “news note,” and was dealt with at length here yesterday). The opening match, which featured CSKA Moscow visiting SKA St. Petersburg in a re-match of their epic playoff series last spring, was a good one. Three times CSKA took the lead, and three times SKA tied it up. Finally, in overtime, it was new CSKA acquisition Geoff Platt picking up his own rebound and backhanding home the winning tally. An auspicious beginning to 2015-16, in terms of excitement!
Below the jump, we’ll talk about what happened in the KHL’s first week, as well as some Russian hockey stories from other leagues!
The KHL was not the only league starting regular-season play this week, as the first games of the Asia League took place on Saturday. The Asia League includes teams from Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia, and was won last year by the Tohoku Free Blades from the Japanese city of Hachinoe. The league’s lone Russian team, HK Sakhalin, will see its first action next Sunday, when it hosts the Hokkaido-based Nippon Paper Cranes.
The first-ever international women’s hockey club tournament hosted in Russia went down this past week, when four teams assembled for the inaugural Agidel Cup in Sterlitamak, south of Ufa. It was the host team, Agidel Ufa, who prevailed in the end, rolling through the round-robin portion of the competition undefeated before beating Kazakh champions Aisulu Almaty 6-0 in the tournament final (highlights of that game above). The bronze medal match saw a bit of a surprise; “Team CIS,” a collection of players largely drawn from the reserve squads of the other participants, defeated SKIF Nizhny Novgorod 3-2 in a shootout to take third place.
The tournament seems to have been a vast success on and off the ice. Russian women’s national team coach Mikhail Chekanov commented afterwards: “I can [only] remember so many fans going to a girls’ hockey game in North America and at the Olympics in Sochi.”
On that optimistic note, the Women’s Hockey League begins its season this coming Friday. The 2015-16 season will be the first under the aegis of the KHL for the seven-team league, and it will be very interesting to see how it all works out. Between now and Friday we’ll have a preview of the season here, but I will say right now that Agidel Ufa, having pried the sublimely talented Olga Sosina away from SKIF, look very very good indeed!
In boys’ hockey, the Junior Club World Cup tournament was going on this past week in Sverdlovsk Oblast, and it wrapped up earlier today with the gold medal game between Swedish side Djurgårdens IF U20 and defending MHL champions Chaika Nizhny Novgorod. The Russian team opened the scoring through Andrei Krupkin, before the Swedes got an equalizing second-period marker from defenseman David Bernhardt. The winning goal came five minutes into the third, off the stick of Djurgårdens’ Jesper Schiöler, and the Swedish team ended up taking gold by a score of 2-1. In the bronze medal game, the Chicago Steel of the USHL defeated MHL team Avto Yekaterinburg 3-2.
And with that, the Russian junior league, the MHL, also gets going this coming week. The schedule begins on Wednesday way out east, when Sakhalinskie Akuly of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk host Khabarovsk’s Amurskie Tigry. The two will meet again on Friday at the same site, before the rest of their colleagues swing into action on the weekend. For defending Kharlamov Cup champions Chaika Nizhny Novgorod, the quest for a repeat title begins on Saturday, with a visit from Belye Medvedi Chelyabinsk.
One of the big stories of the up-coming MHL season will be the performance of the Russian U18 national team, which is taking part in the league as a club for the first team. We will look at that, and other items of interest, in a preview-shaped post here probably on Tuesday.
Back to the KHL, and some of the highlights of the first week! Apart from the season-opener itself, there probably was not a more anticipated game than Spartak Moscow’s home tilt against Dinamo Minsk on Tuesday. For Spartak, it was the first “real” game since the club temporarily folded after the 2013-14 season, and the fans were treated not only to a victory but to a thrilling one at that. The Belarusan guests took a 3-2 lead with just over three minutes to play in the third period, but Igor Radulov rescued the game for the home side with a late tying goal. In overtime, it was American Casey Wellman who won it for Spartak and sent the fans home happy.
Spartak have not fared as well since that opening victory, having been beaten by CSKA Moscow and Lada Tolyatti. They will try again for a second victory of 2015-16 on Monday, at home against Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod.
It has not, I think we must admit, been a banner start to the season for the defending champions. SKA St. Petersburg, as noted above, lost the curtain-raiser to CSKA, snuck past Dinamo Minsk 2-1 in their second game on Thursday, and found themselves beaten 3-1 by Torpedo on Saturday. That last game brought an extra dose of bad news, as SKA captain Ilya Kovalchuk left the game early in the first period with a “lower body” injury. Kovi will be out for some time, with the pessimistic reports suggesting three months. However, we still have no word on the exact nature of the injury; until we do, such rumours should be taken with a grain of salt, and there is every chance that we will see him before late November.
Some “firsts” for the 2015-16 season: Alexander Radulov of CSKA scored the first goal of the new campaign (assists to Jan Muršak and Igor Ozhiganov). For what it’s worth, it was also Ozhiganov who took the first penalty, for cross-checking. The season’s first hat-trick came on Thursday, when Dustin Boyd of Barys Astana found the net three times against Salavat Yulaev Ufa. Thursday also saw the first two shutouts of 2015-16: Jussi Rynnäs backstopped Ak Bars Kazan to a 1-0 victory at HK Sochi, while Vitaly Kolesnik — he of the wonderful mask — did the honours in Lokmomotiv Yaroslavl’s 2-0 win over Lada.
The first shame-faced culprit to come before the KHL Disciplinary Committee in 2015-16? That would be Admiral Vladivostok forward Maxim Mamin, who got a one-game suspension for a terrible knee-to-knee hit on Slovan Bratislava’s Ladislav Nagy. Nagy, quite fortunately, was not badly hurt.
Mamin has since been joined in the dock by Mario Kempe of Vityaz Moscow Oblast, who kneed Sibir’s Sergei Shumakov in the dying seconds of Friday’s game between the two (Sibir won 5-1). Kempe was given two games for his misdeed. Somewhat unusually, Vityaz took to Twitter in the aftermath of game to apologize to Sibir for the hit. Like Nagy, Shumakov escaped serious injury.
Finally, I think the oddest result of the first week of action was the Dick Turpin-level robbery perpetrated against Slovan by Amur Khabarovsk goalie Juha Metsola. Metsola, whom we have already discussed here, saw his team outshot 22-3 in the first period by the Slovaks, but kept the score at 0-0 basically on his own. “34-7” read the shot-counter after 40 minutes, but the score… still 0-0, thanks to the tiny Finnish netminder. Then, early in the third period, the Amur skaters awoke, scored, and, after a little more work from Metsola, skated away with a 1-0 victory despite being outshot 39-14. The best part? One of those 14 shots managed by Amur was actually credited to Metsola himself, on a long clearance from his own zone. Here’s a little sample of his work that night:
The hockey gods are nothing if not capricious, and never moreso than with goalies, so we should not be too surprised that Metsola was pulled from Amur’s next game, today against Dynamo Moscow, after giving up four goals in a period and a bit (Dynamo won it 7-2 in the end). Slovan, meanwhile, recovered to post their biggest-ever KHL victory today, 6-0 over Metallurg Novokuznetsk.
A couple of interesting early-season personnel moves went down this week at Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. First of all, the team has signed a one-year deal with 34-year-old forward Oleg Saprykin. Saprykin has 325 NHL games on his resume, split between Calgary, Phoenix, and Ottawa, with the most recent of them coming in 2006-07. Since then, he was played for a number of Russian teams. He is coming off a bit of a lost season (3-0-3 in 15 games for HK Sochi), but given Saprykin’s experience, and the fact that he has scored at least respectably in the past, the signing probably represents a decent bet.
Departing Yekaterinburg, meanwhile, is high-scoring prospect forward Alexei Mitrofanov, who has had his contract cancelled by mutual consent. Mitrofanov gained widespread attention in 2013-14, when he tore up the MHL to the tune of 40-52-92 in 55 games for Tolpar Ufa. Now 21, he spent 2014-15 at various levels of the Salavat Yulaev organization, getting into a couple of KHL games and going 29 gp, 9-9-18 for Toros Neftekamsk in the VHL. He has enough skill that I think we can safely predict him to turn up somewhere on the KHL map in the near future.
Early last week, we had a post here featuring six KHL players whom I consider of particular interest in the coming season. Here’s an update on how they fared in the first few days of the new season:
G Juha Metsola (Amur Khabarovsk): 3 gp (146:24 total), 2.46 GAA, .922 sv%. We’ve witnessed the full range of results already, as discussed above.
D Ziyat Paigin (Ak Bars Kazan): 3 gp, 0-0-0, -1, 2 PiM, 6:49 TOI/gm. Has not seen the ice in the third period of either of the last two games. Patience, people, patience.
D Nikita Zaitsev (CSKA Moscow): 3 gp, 1-0-1, +2, 0 PiM, 20:10 TOI/gm. Decent enough start.
F Olli Palola (Vityaz Moscow Oblast): 2 gp, 0-0-0, -1, 0 PiM, 16:15 TOI/gm. Still settling in, and missed today’s game through illness.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): 3 gp, 1-2-3, +2, 2 PiM, 14:02 TOI/gm. The Ufans have stumbled out of the gate at 1-2, but it’s not Prokhorkin’s fault. Also, he did this.
F Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk): 3 gp, 1-2-3, +2, 0 PiM, 21:41 TOI/gm. Seems to be rolling along, after his line was shut out in Magnitka’s opening game.
New thing at the weekly news notes — we will also have a weekly poll! For the first try, let’s go back to the issue of foreign players (see yesterday’s post), and ask what you would do about it if it were up to you:
That will do for this time, I think! Look for previews of the junior and women’s leagues this coming week, as those seasons get underway, and we’ll be back next Sunday with more news notes!