Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: November 2nd, 2015
Time for another edition of news notes, as the KHL heads into its ten-day break for international play, and it was a historic week in the league for a couple of reasons. To begin with, Sergei Mozyakin, whom we’ve been following all season here at the blog, joined some truly elite company on Friday night this past week. Early in the second period of Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s game against Torpedo in Nizhny Novgorod, he ambled in behind the temporarily-distracted Torpedo defense, took a pass from Bogdan Potekhin, and snapped it just under the cross-bar to record his 400th goal in top-level Russian hockey. Highlights of that are above, discussion of the feat and of other doings in the past seven days are below! So read on…
With that goal, Mozyakin became just the third man in the history of Soviet and Russian hockey to reach 400 goals in domestic competition, and the other two are among the giants of the game. Boris Mikhailov was part of the wonderful 1970s forward line, alongside Vladimir Petrov and Valery Kharlamov, and captained both CSKA Moscow and the national team of the USSR. And Vyacheslav Starshinov was the main cornerstone of the Spartak Moscow teams that gave Anatoly Tarasov’s Red Army sides a real run for their money throughout the 1960s. I need not repeat — but will anyway — that this is a splendid, spectacular, achievement for Mozyakin, cementing his already-established status as one of Russian hockey’s all-time greats.
Speaking of scoring milestones and great Russian players of the past and present, across the seas in the NHL we find Alexander Ovechkin closing in on Sergei Fedorov in the race to become that league’s all-time greatest Russian goal-scorer. “Ovi” currently sits on 480 goals, just three back of Fedorov, so that record should not be long in falling. Adam Mackman, of Hockey from Across the Pond, has a write-up on the race between Ovechkin and Fedorov, and I encourage you to check it out!
Back to the KHL, where Mozyakin’s goal was not the only historic feat this past week! On Saturday, Dinamo Riga became the first team in the league’s eight-year history to overcome a five-goal deficit in a game. For added difficulty, they did it on the road against a formidable opponent in Jokerit Helsinki, and the entire comeback happened in the third period. Two goals from Jesse Joensuu had staked Jokerit to a 5-0 advantage through 40 minutes, but Miķelis Rēdlihs scored twice himself for Dinamo early in the final frame and later set up his brother Krišjānis for the tying goal with six minutes to play. Lauris Dārziņš subsequently won it for the Latvian side in the shootout.
For Dinamo, it was their fourth victory in a row, and the second that involved a huge comeback. On Thursday, they scored twice in the last 1:20 against Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg to force overtime, where Dārziņš struck to earn them two points. Dinamo started this season with a sub-mediocre 7-16 record, but the current streak removes some of the sting of that, and keeps the playoffs a realistic possibility.
As for Jokerit, it was obviously a deeply disappointing evening, and head coach Erkka Westerlund will have some work to do over the upcoming KHL schedule break to get his team’s collective head right again. After a bright start to the season, the Finns have stumbled a bit in recent weeks, with 5-6 record for the month of October. One consolation: Jokerit still lead the Bobrov division, by five points and with games in hand.
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s tremendous winning streak came to an end at 13 games this past week, and it was Traktor Chelyabinsk who did the honours with a 2-1 home victory on the 27th. Lokomotiv, while still atop the West Conference and KHL standings, followed up the loss in Chelyabinsk by going down 4-3 to Neftekhimik in Nizhnekamsk, and so are now embarked on a streak of the wrong kind.
The break could not arrive at a better time for the Yaroslavl side, as they are facing a serious injury crisis. Currently sidelined are goalie Alexei Murygin — he of the .973 save percentage and seven shutouts in 12 games — and the team’s top two goal-scorers this season, Yegor Averin (24 gp, 14-6-20) and Emil Galimov (26 gp, 8-5-13). No word on when they are expected back, but ten days off for the team will certainly ease the pain of their absence somewhat.
The days just before the schedule break are always a bit tense for coaches on the hot seat — the period without game action provides an ideal opportunity for replacement bench bosses to get acquainted with their squads, and is thus as good a time as any to make a change. And so it is no surprise that this past week saw another coaching shuffle in the KHL. Nor was it a shocker that it was Severstal Cherepovets, currently in last place in the West conference, deciding to switch things up. Václav Sýkora has been “suspended” from his coaching duties, and will be replaced for now by former NHLer, and current Severstal assistant coach, Dmitry Yushkevich. The meaning of the “suspension,” as opposed to an outright firing, is a bit unclear, but it is not likely that we will see Sýkora behind the Severstal bench again.
As for Yushkevich, he is considered one of the up-and-coming coaches in Russian hockey. At 43 years old, he has had two short stints as a KHL head coach already: with Sibir Novosibirsk in 2011-12 and last season with Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk. He also gained experience as an assistant at Lokomotiv prior to joining Severstal this off-season.
It is signed, sealed, delivered, and done; Vyacheslav Voynov is a member of SKA St. Petersburg. The 25-year-old defenseman from Chelyabinsk, who “self-deported” from the U.S. after his conviction and imprisonment on domestic violence charges this past summer, had been waiting for a number of paperwork issues to be cleared up after his hometown club Traktor traded his rights SKA last month. That is all now out of the way, and we should see Voynov on the SKA blueline after the break. In the meantime, he has also been called up to represent Russia at the upcoming Karjala Cup tournament (see below for more on that).
There was another interesting KHL player move this past week, involving Sibir Novosibirsk. We have not talked enough about Sibir this season here at the blog, but they are having a fine time of it in 2015-16. The Siberians currently lead the East Conference by seven points over the resurgent Salavat Yulaev Ufa, and have taken at least a point from 15 straight games going back to September 20th. Goalie Alexander Salak has been a big reason for the team’s success; the Czech netminder was named KHL Goalie of the Month for October, and has helped Sibir overcome the off-season departures of key defensemen Patrik Hersley (to Lokomotiv) and Igor Ozhiganov (to CSKA Moscow).
A reinforcement for Salak’s defense is arriving, however, in the form of veteran Slovak rearguard Andrej Meszároš. Meszároš has more than 600 NHL games under his belt, and most recently played in that league for the Buffalo Sabres. He attended training camp with the Colorado Avalanche this fall, but failed to make the team. Meszároš should be an excellent addition for Sibir; he is experienced, but at 30 years old is also far from finished as a useful player.
And, speaking of veteran Slovak NHL defensemen, Ľubomír Višňovský is heading home, having signed a deal with Slovan Bratislava. Višňovský is likely best-known for his time with the L.A. Kings, but also played for the Ducks, Oilers, and Islanders during an NHL career that saw him score 495 points in 883 games. As the linked article indicates, he has some chronic injury worries, particularly as regards his back, and is also coming up on his 40th birthday; Slovan, in other words, is likely to be the last stop in his playing career.
Višňovský, you may recall, played for Slovan during the recent NHL lockout, and wanted very desperately to remain there when the NHL got back to business. An arrangement could not be reached, however, so his return to Slovakia has had to wait until now.
A couple of KHL teams took time this past week to pay tribute to famous alumni with pre-game banner-raising ceremonies. Pavel Bure, who surely needs no introduction, was honoured by CSKA prior to the Moscow derby game against Dynamo last Wednesday. Bure played for CSKA between 1987 and 1991, prior to moving to North America. With the ceremony over, Bure’s old club provided some icing for the cake with a 3-2 victory over Dynamo.
The other tribute took place in Tolyatti, where Lada are busy erasing all memory of their horrific start to the season — they will enter the break as winners of five in a row and eight of their last ten. On October 25th, they honoured former coach Gennady Tsygurov, who led the team to its two national championships in the mid-1990s. Appropriately enough, the opposition on the night he was feted was Traktor Chelyabinsk, for whom Tsygurov played defense from 1959 to 1977 (Lada, for the record, won the game 4-2). It was great to see the 73-year-old Tsygurov honoured after what has been a very tough year for him. He has had to cope not only with some serious health issues, but also with the sudden death this past January of his son, former Buffalo Sabre and Los Angeles King Denis Tsygurov, at the age of only 43.
The November KHL break means international hockey is on the menu, and there is indeed a boatload of it going on right now and in the coming days. The Russian men’s team will take part in the annual Karjala Cup tournament, the first leg of the Euro Hockey Tour, in Finland this coming week. Russia will face off against Sweden, the Czech Republic, and the host nation, with their opening game coming against the Finns on November 5th. The prospective roster for Russia is here, although it should be noted that Alexander Radulov has been given permission to leave the team; his wife is expecting the couple’s first child this week. The U20 teams of all four countries will also be in action against each other in Finland this coming week, as part of an associated tournament.
There are other Russian boys’ teams getting games in this week too. The U17s are in British Columbia, Canada, to take part in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. The young Russians began that tournament by beating Sweden 5-2 yesterday, but suffered a 6-3 set-back at the hands of Finland today. And Russia’s U16 team will be taking part in a tournament in Belarus, with opposition to be provided by the hosts as well as Latvia and Slovakia.
On the women’s side, the senior national team is visiting the Czech Republic this week for a five-nation tournament (Team Russia’s roster can be seen here). The Czech, Slovak, Swiss, and German national teams will make up the balance of the field. The girls’ U18 team, meanwhile, will be in Dmitrov just outside Moscow to play games against Sweden, Finland, and Germany.
Some very exciting news from the world of Russian women’s hockey! The Night Hockey League — one of the country’s top amateur hockey organizations — announced earlier this year that they were intending to start up a women’s division, and we now have some idea as to what it will look like. Per Alexander Agapov on Facebook, the “Divizion Amazonki” will be consist of 24 teams divided into four regional groups. The division will have teams based everywhere from St. Petersburg to Khabarovsk, and play will begin later on this month, with the eventual championship final to be held in Moscow at the VTB Arena.
More details on this story, as I get them. In any case, the creation of a national amateur championship is excellent news for the women’s game in Russia!
Time to finish up with a look at our team of player’s to whom we’re paying specific attention this season:
G Juha Metsola (Amur Khabarovsk): 27 gp, 1.84 GAA, .933 sv%. Solid numbers still for Metsola, who looks like one of the KHL off-season’s best acquisitions.
D Ziyat Paigin (HK Sochi): 11 gp, 1-2-3, +2, 2 PiM, 7:55 TOI/gm. Paigin played only once this week, but it was a massive game for him. He scored his first goal of the season, and played a career-high 25:54, against Traktor, and was +1 despite the fact that his team lost the game 5-3.
D Nikita Zaitsev (CSKA Moscow): 22 gp, 4-9-13, +13, 4 PiM, 21:00 TOI/gm. A great week — three assists in two games, amid reports that as many as five NHL teams are interested in his services for next season.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): 26 gp, 9-7-16, +7, 44 PiM, 16:31 TOI/gm. It was also a productive stretch for Prokhorkin, who scored once and added two assists in Salavat Yulaev’s three games this week.
F Olli Palola (Vityaz Moscow Oblast): 17 gp, 1-2-3, -5, 6 PiM, 14:49 TOI/gm. He’s still not scoring, but Palola is +3 in his last three games, which represents progress of a sort.
F Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk): 27 gp, 19-15-34, +3, 0 PiM: 21:17 TOI/gm. His milestone goal aside (see above), Mozyakin scored two goals and two assists in three games this week. He still leads the KHL scoring chart this season, four points ahead of his line-mate Jan Kovář.
That’s it for this time! Next Sunday we’ll check in with what happened in all the international tournaments this week, among whatever other items may happen to come up before KHL action resumes next Tuesday. Thanks for reading, as always!