Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: September 15th, 2015
It was a “banner” week for a couple of KHL teams, at least when it came to honouring stars of the past. In Kazan, on September 13th, Ak Bars retired the number 95 worn by Alexei Morozov. Morozov played nine seasons for the Tatar team, the last six as captain, after joining them during the 2004-05 NHL lockout. Prior to that, he came up through the youth ranks at Krylya Sovetov Moscow, then spent seven years as a Pittsburgh Penguin in the NHL. With Ak Bars, he won one Russian Superleague title and a pair of Gagarin Cups. Morozov also represented Russia at numerous World Championships and at the 1998 and 2010 Olympic Games. He retired in 2014 after a single season with CSKA Moscow, and is now involved with the Russian junior league in an administrative capacity. Alexei Morozov is fourth on the KHL’s all-time points list, with 287 in 294 games.
Morozov’s was not the only sweater hitting the rafters this week in the KHL, however! Read on for that story and other items.
The other sweater-retirement took place in Chelyabinsk, where Traktor honoured Viktor Shuvalov on September 14th (go here for photos of the ceremony). It was Shuvalov who, in 1948, scored the first ever Soviet Championship goal for Dzerzhinets Chelyabinsk, as Traktor were then known. He later moved on, first to VVS MVO Moscow and subsequently to Red Army, winning national championships at both on a line with Vsevolod Bobrov and Yevgeny Babich. The trio played together for the Soviet national team as well, and won both World Championship and Olympic gold. In all, Shuvalov scored 222 goals in 150 Soviet Championship games, winning the national scoring title in 1950.
Shuvalov is still alive at 91 (possibly the only still-living player from those early Soviet national teams), but did not attend the ceremony in Chelyabinsk; his niece was on hand to do the honours. If you would like to know more about Viktor Shuvalov, I invite you to check out the series here about Soviet Championship seasons — he features in a big way therein!
Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, surprisingly first in the KHL early last week, stumbled a bit this week, and have now lost four in row. This leaves Avangard Omsk Oblast, with 24 points from ten games and still unbeaten in regulation, atop the standings. However, we should not lose track of Jokerit Helsinki. The league’s Finnish representatives are 7-1 on the season, all wins coming in regulation, and that puts them three points back of Avangard with two games in hand (Jokerit are two back of CSKA Moscow in the West, with two games in hand there as well). Despite playing a game or two fewer than most other teams, Jokerit are sixth in the league in goals scored, and forward Brandon Kozun (8 gp, 6-8-14), is leading the KHL in points.
Even more impressive, however, has been Jokerit’s defense and goaltending; they have conceded only nine goals this season, for a tidy team GAA of 1.13. Riku Helenius and Henrik Karlsson have split the time in goal fairly evenly, and that tandem is clearly producing stunning results. Helenius, with a 0.67 GAA and a .969 sv%, leads the KHL in both those categories, while Karlsson (1.41 GAA, .953 sv%) is sixth in goals against per game and fifth in save percentage. That is about as good as it gets for team goaltending, particularly as both ‘keepers have played about the same number of games (five for Karlsson, four for Helenius).
Hopeful signs for Salavat Yulaev Ufa, after their dreadful start to the season! Stumbling out of the gate at 1-5, Salavat Yulaev had found themselves rock bottom in the East Conference, but they eked out a 2-1 regulation win against Severstal in Cherepovets on Friday despite being outshot 25-15. On Sunday, they faced arch-rivals Ak Bars Kazan, on the road in the Tatar capital, and the guys from Ufa made it two wins in a row! Nikolai Prokhorkin was the big hero on the night, tying the game at three with only nine seconds left in the third. Linus Omark then potted the winner in a shootout. The two victories move Salavat Yulaev up to 11th in the East, so there is still clearly some ways to go. Those results, however, are encouraging.
Results, however, continue to be decidedly mixed for SKA St. Petersburg — the defending champs are now 4-5 on the year, and residing in the unlikely confines of ninth place in the West Conference. Obviously, the absence of Ilya Kovalchuk through injury has not helped, but reinforcements are on the way. SKA have announced the acquisition and signing of Vladimir Tkachyov (often spelled “Tkachev,” and not to be confused with the player of the same name at Ak Bars Kazan). Tkachyov’s rights were held by Avangard Omsk, and SKA gave up money (the money they had received from Ak Bars last week for defenseman Nikolai Belov) to acquire them.
The diminutive Tkachyov (5’8″, 163 lbs.) spent most of the last two seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, playing for the Moncton Wildcats and Quebec Remparts. In that league, he scored 79 points in 66 regular season games. After going undrafted in the summer of 2014, he was invited to the Edmonton Oilers’ rookie camp, and did enough there to get a call to the main camp. The Oilers, in fact, were so impressed with him that they signed him to an entry-level contract, only for the NHL to declare it void due to Tkachyov still being eligible for the 2015 draft. Back to junior he went, and once again did not hear his name called on draft day. There were hopes that the Oilers would bring him back again, but it now appears that the little guy from Omsk will take his next hockey steps in his home country.
Those steps are likely to be taken as a member of SKA-Neva, VHL farm team of SKA St. Petersburg. Tkachyov himself indicated today that he will have a couple of matches in the lower league to get himself back in game shape before joining the big club.
A former 6th-overall NHL draft pick (Columbus Blue Jackets), Nikita Filatov, is on the move as well, going from Admiral Vladivostok to Dynamo Moscow for financial considerations. Amazingly, Dynamo will be the 25-year-old Filatov’s sixth KHL team since he left the NHL’s Ottawa Senators during the 2011-12 season; he has a career line of 173 gp, 41-47-88 in the Russian league.
Very bad news for Barys Astana this past week; the Kazakh club has lost Dustin Boyd, one member of its potent all-North-American first line, for up to a month with a broken jaw. The trio of Boyd, Nigel Dawes, and Brandon Bochenski is viewed as one of the best units in the KHL, so the days are likely to drag a bit for Barys fans waiting for the 29-year-old Manitoban to return. However, the situation may not be unsalvageable; Martin St. Pierre has lined up with Dawes and Bochenski in Boyd’s absence, and has three assists in two games, both of which Barys won.
It had been widely rumoured that at least one of the Kostitsyn brothers would be leaving Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod in the wake of the kerfuffle over Belarusans in the KHL. And we learned this past week that it would be Sergei, rather than Andrei, who would be departing Russia. The younger Kostitsyn has signed a try-out contract with the Calgary Flames, and will attend their training camp.
Veteran defenseman Vitaly Vishnevsky, who has spent the last three seasons as an assistant captain with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, will also get a look at an NHL training camp, having received an invitation from the Anaheim Ducks (link is a PDF). Vishnevsky, now 35 years old, was a first-round pick of the Ducks way back in 1998, and has already played 552 NHL games, not to mention his 358 contests in the KHL.
Sadly, the proposed KHL regular season game in Italy will not go ahead as planned. Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg had been scheduled to “host” Spartak Moscow on October 25th in Torino, but the agreement could not be finalized, and the match will take place in Yekaterinburg on October 24th. The KHL has rescheduled a couple of Avtomobilist’s games to compensate for the change in travel plans.
The Russian Women’s League has gone on a long break for international play, with games on that circuit resuming in early October. Tornado Moscow Oblast, perfect through four games, go into the break on top of the league standings. The Russian national women’s team has a series of exhibition games scheduled against Japan and Germany, while the U18 girls will play in a four-nation tournament in the German city of Selb (Austria, the Czech Republic, and the hosts will be the other nations taking part).
Anna Shokhina leads the RWHL in points after the first bit of action, with 14 points from four games. However, it was her linemate, Alevtina Shtaryova, who had the biggest single game performance. Shtaryova scored five and assisted on another in a 7-3 win for Tornado over Dynamo St. Petersburg this past week.
Update time, for our players of particular interest!
G Juha Metsola (Amur Khabarovsk): 8 gp, 2.44 GAA, .910 sv%. Amur, with Metsola in net, finally broke a five-game losing skid this week with a 3-2 victory over Dinamo Riga.
D Ziyat Paigin (Ak Bars Kazan): 8 gp, 0-1-1, +2, 2 PiM, 7:55 TOI/gm. Young Paigin has been sent to the VHL’s Bars Kazan, where he has played two games and has an assist. It was a “playing time” move; Paigin is averaging 17 minutes per match in the lower league.
D Nikita Zaitsev (CSKA Moscow): 8 gp, 3-2-5, +7, 2 PiM, 19:45 TOI/gm. Tied for third in the league in goals by defensemen, although we are still waiting for him to really show what he can do.
F Olli Palola (Vityaz Moscow Oblast): 7 gp, 0-0-0, -2, 2 PiM, 15:57 TOI/gm. No points yet for Palola, and the weirdest thing is that Vityaz are doing just fine anyway. They’re 6-3, although only two of those victories have come in regulation.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): 8 gp, 2-3-5, +2, 4 PiM, 15:27 TOI/gm. Slowed down a little bit this week, but his one point in three games was a big one (see the item on Salavat Yulaev above).
F Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk): 9 gp, 5-7-12, +4, 0 PiM, 21:35 TOI/gm. Tied for second in the KHL points, and second also in ice time among forwards. He’s still got it (pretty wily, too)!
Time for a new poll (last week’s is here)!
And that will about do for this week! Having mentioned the series on early Soviet Championship seasons above, it’s probably time to add another entry there, so that will be along in the next few days.