Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: November 23rd, 2015
New notes time! There is lots to cover in this one: good news from the KHL, record-breaking news from the NHL, exciting news for amateur women’s hockey in Russia, plus other items. And there is some very interesting information out there about a potential future KHL team (and yes, that is a clue in the image above). So read on!
The big KHL news this past week comes from the “Expansion” file. There has been much talk this year about the possibilities of a Chinese team for next season, and now we have similarly exciting news from the geographical other end of the KHL, namely that an Estonian group is interested as well. The proposed new team is Ilves (“Lynx”) Tallinn, a newly-founded outfit based in Estonia’s capital city. According to one of the organizers, former Estonian basketball star Heino Enden, the purpose of KHL membership would be to raise the profile, and calibre, of Estonian hockey (the country’s men’s national team currently competes in IIHF Division IB, the third tier of international hockey). If approved Ilves will play at the Tondiraba Jäähall (capacity 5840).
We are obviously miles from anything official on this, but it most certainly bears watching. Estonia had a team — Dinamo Tallinn — in the early years of Soviet hockey, before fading from the hockey scene somewhat. There had been some talk, a couple of years ago, about the possibility of that country putting a junior team in the MHL, although that came to nothing in the end.
Also on the topic of expansion, note the last sentence of the article linked above. China we knew about, but I’m very interested in the suggestion that Italy is once again a possible KHL destination. Milano Rossoblu made a spirited attempt to join the league a few years ago, before arena concerns torpedoed the project, but it sounds like talks are still going on…
In the NHL, Alexander Ovechkin, who had been a bit snake-bitten of late, finally broke through and became all-time leading Russian NHL goal-scorer, when he found the net against the Dallas Stars on November 19th (highlight above). The goal was the 484th of Ovechkin’s career, passing the 483 scored by the newly-inducted Hockey Hall of Famer Sergei Fedorov. Alexander Mogilny is now third on that list, with 473 goals (he was first until Fedorov passed him in 2008).
Oddly enough, both Ovechkin and Fedorov scored their record-breaking goals for the Capitals against Dallas. Even more strangely, winger Nicklas Backstrom assisted on both men’s record-breaking tallies!
In any case, it is a truly remarkable accomplishment by Ovechkin, as Fedorov ranks as one of the game’s all-time greats. Many congratulations to him on the accomplishment!
It was a bit of a sad week in the VHL, Russia’s second-tier professional league. In the news notes a little while ago we discussed the on-ice difficulties of Moscow-area club Zvezda-VDV Dmitrov, and now it turns that they had off-ice problems to match. So much so, in fact, that Zvezda-VDV have now withdrawn from the VHL entirely, marking the first time that the league has lost a club in mid-season. The team departs with a record of 3-22, and goals-for-&-against of 27-94. The one consolation in all this — Zvezda-VDV, prior to withdrawing, had played every team in the league exactly once, leaving them with one game remaining against each team. Thus the standings will not be thrown into chaos by the club’s departure.
Zvezda-VDV had been serving as the farm team for KHL side Amur Khabarovsk. The duty has now been taken on by Buran Voronezh, and the Amur guys who were playing in Dmitrov have been transferred there.
Back to the KHL, and some happier news! The KHL has lifted the transfer bans, mentioned here a couple of weeks ago, on Sibir Novosibirsk, Slovan Bratislava, and Admiral Vladivostok. Those bans were in place due to wage arrears from last season, and while those debts have not yet been paid in full, all three clubs have provided satisfactory timetables for doing so, and both the KHL and the Players’ Union have deemed them satisfactory enough for now. The fourth team punished for being behind in payments to players, Medveščak Zagreb, is still under interdict as far as new signings are concerned.
Speaking of Novosibirsk, IIHF President Rene Fasel was in that city in the last couple of days for meetings with KHL head Dmitry Chernyshenko and regional Governor Vladimir Gorodetsky. One of the major items on the agenda was the construction of a new KHL arena. The Ice Sports Palace Sibir, the eponymous team’s current home, is one of the league’s oldest buildings, having opened its doors in 1964. There was also some talk that, once a prospective new arena is up and running, the World Junior Championship might make its way to Novosibirsk one of these years.
Later this week, Chernyshenko will meet with Yevgeny Kuivashev, Governor of Sverdlovsk Oblast, in Yekaterinburg, to discuss a new home for Avtomobilist. The current building there, the KRK Uralets, first opened in 1970, and it is hoped that a replacement will be built by 2020.
Traktor Chelyabinsk have fired coach Andrei Nikolishin, after a stuttering first half that has them ten points out of an East Conference playoff spot. Nikolishin was hired about a year ago, and guided Traktor back to the post-season after they missed out in 2013-14. However, while their 16-18 overall record this season does not look so bad, Traktor are 7-16 in games that have ended in regulation, and that’s not good enough. Anvar Gatiyatulin, Head Coach of junior team Belye Medvedi Chelyabinsk, takes over at Traktor on an interim basis.
To the ice, finally! When last we checked in, both Sibir and Lokomotiv, top teams in their respective conferences, were suffering through mini-slumps — in Lokomotiv’s case, so much so that they had ceded top spot in the West to CSKA Moscow. Well, another week has gone by, and the dark clouds have blown away for both teams. Sibir, having suffered a three game losing streak that included a 7-0 demolition at home by Amur Khabarovsk, took revenge with a pair of road wins over Amur and followed those up by downing fellow East Conference challengers Avangard Omsk 2-1. Oleg Gubin was the hero in that one, tying the game with three minutes to play and then scoring the winner in overtime. Sibir’s lead atop the East Conference now stands at eight points over Avangard and Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
Lokomotiv’s plight was more dire; they had lost five in a row after a 13-game winning streak, and were also without leading scorer Yegor Averin. Averin is still out, but the losing streak is history. It ended with a 4-2 victory for the Yaroslavl team over Salavat Yulaev Ufa, and that was followed by a Denis Mosalyov hat-trick in a rousing 7-4 triumph over Avtomobilist. Lokomotiv then ended their week with a fairly routine 3-1 win over Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk. So, three wins in a row now, and Lokomotiv are back on top in the West, by four points over CSKA.
On Sunday, Dynamo Moscow held a ceremony to retire the number six worn by one of their legendary alumni, the late defenseman Valery Vasilyev. Vasilyev, who played for Dynamo between 1967 and 1984, can be counted among the USSR’s all-time great rearguards, appearing in three Olympics, two Canada Cups, and the Summit Series in both 1972 and 1974. He passed away in 2012.
The Women’s Hockey League is taking a quick break at this point, with play resuming on the 29th of this month. Since that campaign has reached its halfway mark, we will take a full post here tomorrow and look at how each of the teams have done in the league’s first season as part of the KHL sphere.
However, there was some other very interesting women’s hockey news this week! The Divizion Amazonki of the League of Women’s Hockey, part of the top-level amateur Night Hockey League, got its inaugural season underway on the 15th, with a game between Moscow-area teams Grad-2 and HK Atlant (Atlant won it 3-0, for the record). The “Amazon Division” will feature 23 teams in four geographical groups, nation-wide, and will culminate a final national women’s amateur championship to be played at Moscow’s VTB Arena. You can follow the league’s goings-on at its new website: whaliga.ru (note: the site is still very much under construction).
Some KHL player movement news: the afore-mentioned lifting of the transfer ban comes at an excellent time particularly for Admiral, who are in the thick of the playoff race in the East Conference. With roster improvements once again available to them, their first new acquisition is likely to be former Florida Panther, Vancouver Canuck, and Toronto Maple Leaf David Booth, whose wife Ashley posted a picture on her Instagram account recently suggesting that the couple was en route to Russia’s Far East (many thanks to Patricia Teter of Artfulpuck for the heads-up on that one).
Booth split last season between the Leafs and the AHL Marlies, and has a career record of 231 points in 502 games, including a 31-goal season for Florida in 2008-09.
One big move that is official is the transfer of American forward Ryan Stoa from Metallurg Novokuznetsk to Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, in return for financial considerations. It is a harsh blow for the perennially strugling Novokuznetsk team; Stoa was their top point-scorer in 2014-15, and was leading the team in goals this season with 15. Metallurg’s fans, tired of seeing their young talent vanish into the distance (and the club does have a genuinely excellent development system), dashed off a letter to regional Governor Aman Tuleyev asking him to step in and provide the team with some help.
As for Neftekhimik, they are pushing hard to make the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, but have relied very heavily on the strong goaltending of Alexander Sudnitsin (.948 save percentage in 29 games). Stoa should provide them with some badly-needed scoring depth.
Here’s an odd one: Salavat Yulaev have placed defenseman Kirill Koltsov on waivers. It is a strange move in that Koltsov led the KHL’s blueliners in points in both 2013-14 (35 in 48 games) and 2014-15 (48 in 60), and was his team’s top scorer, period, last season as well. This year however, he has struggled mightily, with a line of 1-10-11 in 23 games (injuries have been a factor). If he passes through waivers, the 32-year-old Koltsov will likely be assigned to Salavat Yulaev’s farm team, Toros Neftekamsk of the VHL. However, with his talent even a bad year should not keep him out of the KHL for too long.
Whether his eventual return comes with the team from Ufa, or with someone else, is the question. Koltsov is seriously unhappy with his demotion, opining today that he hoped Salavat Yulaev GM Leonid Vaisfeld “would not last long in his job.”
Some other moves of interest: Alexei Mikhnov, whom we discussed last week, has had a busy few days. After his release by Ugra, he signed on with VHL leaders THK Tver, where he scored three points in two games. Mikhnov’s stay in Russia’s second division was not long, however; by the end of the week, the former Edmonton Oiler draft pick was back in the KHL, this time with Avtomobilist. He celebrated his return to the top league by scoring in his first game for his new team, in today’s 3-1 win over Ugra.
And veteran defenseman Vyacheslav Belov has moved from Lada Tolyatti to Spartak Moscow. Belov spent the last two seasons as an assistant captain for Sibir before joining Lada over the summer. The 32-year-old does not score much — three assists in 15 games in 2015-16 — but will provide a “wise old head” at the back for Spartak.
Finally, we have a move that so far exists only on paper, but is intriguing nonetheless — forward Steve Moses has had his rights traded by Jokerit Helsinki to SKA St. Petersburg. Moses, you may recall, broke the KHL record for goals in a season last year with 36, and was rewarded with a contract to play for the Nashville Predators. However, he failed to make the NHL team out of training camp, and has struggled a bit with the Predators’ AHL farm club in Milwaukee (13 gp, 2-4-6 so far). With SKA acquiring his KHL rights, I think can officially start wondering about whether Moses will soon return to the league where he did so well in 2014-15.
Time to check in with the little team of players upon whom we are a particularly close eye this season:
G Juha Metsola (Amur Khabarovsk): 31 gp, 1.88 GAA, .931 sv%. Amur lost all three games this week, taking only a point, but none of it can be laid at Metsola’s door. In the dying seconds against Sibir, he made the save shown above to preserve that single point for his team.
D Ziyat Paigin (HK Sochi): 14 gp, 2-6-8, +2, 2 PiM, 11:07 TOI/gm. What a week! Paigin scored his first two goals of the season, and recorded two assists to boot, including this gem of a pass to Mikhail Anisin. All that in three games, plus he added a full minute to his average Time on Ice.
D Nikita Zaitsev (CSKA Moscow): 26 gp, 4-10-14, +11, 12 PiM, 20:58 TOI/gm. A “meh” sort of week — Zaitsev was on the ice for both goals against in a 2-0 loss to Slovan Bratislava, but redeemed himself somewhat with an assist to help CSKA beat Medveščak 3-1.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): 31 gp, 9-7-16, +2, 44 PiM, 16:16 TOI/gm. Yikes. Scoreless this week, and he went -4 in three games, although his team did win two of them. Prokhorkin’s in a real slump, without a point in six straight contests.
F Olli Palola (Vityaz Moscow Oblast): 22 gp, 1-2-3, -7, 8 PiM, 13:52 TOI/gm. No points again, although Palola played in only one of Vityaz’s two games this week, and he did post a +1 in that. And Vityaz are now on a six-game losing streak…
F Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk): 33 gp, 22-17-39, +2, 0 PiM: 21:24 TOI/gm. It was a quiet week for Mozyakin, too, with just a goal to show for three games, and a -4 as well. Still leads the KHL in goals and points, with his margin in both being four over his nearest rivals.
So, to sum up, our five skaters combined for six points, and Ziyat Paigin had four of them! Who saw that coming?
That’s it for this time! Tomorrow, we’ll take an in-depth look at the first half of the Women’s Hockey League’s 2015-16 season, and the news notes will be back next Monday. Thanks for reading!