Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: November 30th, 2015
Here we are, with another week in the books, so it is once again time for some news notes. The past seven days were filled with interesting happenings, on and off the ice — below the jump, we’ll discuss a couple of sombre memorials, another fired coach, some on-ice action in the KHL and RWHL, and so on and so forth! Read on!
This past week saw the first anniversary of the death of Viktor Vasilyevich Tikhonov, the famous (and infamous) Red Army and national team coach of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. The occasion was marked by the unveiling of a memorial monument, designed by Tikhonov’s widow, at Moscow’s Vagankovskoye Cemetery. Numerous hockey dignitaries attended the ceremony, including Russian Hockey Federation President Vladislav Tretyak, who played under Tikhonov for both club and country, and IIHF head René Fasel.
Tikhonov was not the only renowned coach memorialized in the past few days. The KHL game between Metallurg Magnitogorsk and Traktor, in Chelyabinsk, featured both teams wearing sweater patches in honour of Valery Belousov, who enjoyed great success as a coach at both teams during the post-Soviet era. Belousov passed away in April of this year, at the age of 66.
Another week gone by, and another KHL coach is looking for a new job, as Vityaz Moscow Oblast have parted ways with Oleg Orekhovsky. Vityaz assistant Ravil Yakubov takes the head coaching reins, at least for now. The cause of the dismissal is easy to see; the team had lost eight in a row (the streak is now nine), and is rapidly falling out of post-season contention in the West Conference.
Orekhovsky took over Vityaz in January of 2014 in an interim capacity, and was made full-time Head Coach of the club that spring. Under his leadership, Vityaz continued to distance themselves from the goonish antics of their notorious past, and results on the ice showed some improvement over previous years. However, the Gagarin Cup playoffs remained terra incognita to the Vityaz faithful, and the recent slump was the final straw. Orekhovsky is only 38, and we will almost certainly see him again behind a KHL bench in the not-too-remote future.
A quick historical note. Vityaz and Metallurg Novokuznetsk are the only two currently active KHL teams never to have made the playoffs in the league’s admittedly brief history. There is still time remaining in the 2015-16 season, but it looks very much like both those droughts will continue.
As for the question of who will be the next KHL bench boss given the pink slip: the vultures would appear to be circling over Kari Heikkilä at Dinamo Riga. Per Aivis Kalniņš on Twitter, the Latvian club will be making some decisions after Dinamo’s next two games are complete. Those two matches will come on the road, against HK Sochi on Thursday and Ak Bars Kazan on Saturday, and both are likely to be of the “tough but winnable” sort. We will see, but do not be surprised if there is a new man in charge in Riga by the time the next news notes appear.
There was a terrifying moment in yesterday’s game in Khanty-Mansiysk between Ugra and visitors Slovan Bratislava. Ugra forward Vitaly Sitnikov will be thanking his lucky stars after Ladislav Nagy’s skate blade accidentally caught him in the neck (the video is here, and upsetting), but fortunately — very fortunately — failed to damage anything vital. Kudos nonetheless to the medical staffs of both teams, for how they dealt with a potentially lethal situation. Ugra’s CMO Dr. Alexei Anisimov discussed the incident in an interview with Sovsport today, which you can read here.
Sitnikov will be fine — he was feeling well enough to take a picture after receiving treatment:
Update on Vitaly Sitnikov: he took a selfie yesterday after being stitched up. https://t.co/FUaAMHNs94
— KHL News – English (@KHLNewsEN) November 30, 2015
Alexander Mogilny was honoured this past week with a ceremony during the visit of Amur Khabarovsk, of which club he is currently president, to CSKA Moscow, for whom he played in the 1980s. Recently inducted Hockey Hall of Famer Sergei Fedorov was on hand for the event, as were Valery Kharlamov’s two old linemates, Vladimir Petrov and Boris Mikhailov.
As for the game itself, Amur resisted strongly, and the score stood at 0-0 as the third period wound down. However, goals from Nikita Zaitsev and Alexander Radulov in the last four minutes eventually secured a 2-0 CSKA victory. Red Army followed that up with a 3-0 victory over Metallurg Kuznetsk today — their fifth win in a row — and now sit three points ahead of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl atop the West Conference standings with two games in hand.
One of the big reasons for CSKA’s recent success has been the resurgence of Alexander Radulov. Radulov celebrated the birth of his first child early in November, and was perhaps a little distracted by the event — in the five games preceding the current winning streak, he recorded only one goal and one assist, and was -3. Since then? Over the course of the five victories, he has a line of 5-6-11, +7.
Things are tight at the top over in the East Conference, as well. Today’s action saw Metallurg Magnitogorsk beat an unusually flat Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk team 5-0 to take over first place from Sibir Novosibirsk, albeit thanks to the tiebreaker (regulation victories). By the end of the day, however, Sibir had managed to wring out a tough 2-1 victory over Severstal in Cherepovets to retake the pole position. The revitalized Salavat Yulaev Ufa are lurking as well, five points back of Sibir and two behind Metallurg, but with a game in hand on both. And the Magnitogorsk squad will pay a visit to Ufa on Wednesday, for what ought to be a fun game, given both teams’ offensive prowess.
In the Russian Women’s Hockey League, meanwhile, the title race got even closer this weekend, as leaders Agidel Ufa stumbled in Krasnoyarsk against Biryusa. The two teams played a pair of games; on Sunday, fourth-place Biryusa led 2-1 in the very late going, before goals from Nicol Čupková and Inna Dyubanok rescued all three points for Agidel. The Ufans were not so lucky in today’s game, however; they fought back from 4-1 down to send things to extra time, before Biryusa’s Lidiya Malyavko won it in a shootout. Perhaps most impressively, Biryusa were able to hold Olga Sosina, who came in leading the WHL in scoring, to only a goal and an assist over the two games.
The loss, only Agidel’s second of the season in 14 games, allowed Tornado Moscow Oblast to pull even in points (each team has 36) and take the league lead on the regulation-victory tiebreaker.
Tornado were hosting the league’s bottom team, SKSO Yekaterinburg, and the gulf between the two was evident in the results. Tornado won the first game 12-1, as Alevtina Shtaryova recorded her second five-goal game of the season, and then took the second by 9-3 thanks in part to a Yelena Dergachyova hat-trick. Shtaryova, unsurprisingly, now leads the league in goals with 18, three ahead of Sosina and Biryusa’s Valeriya Pavlova. And Shtaryova’s linemate Anna Shokhina scored 1-7-8 in the two games against SKSO to leap into the points lead with 38. Sosina and Dergachyova are tied for second, with 33.
Staying with the WHL for a moment, SKIF Nizhny Novgorod, currently fifth in the seven-team league, have reinforced their goaltending by adding Diana Farkhutdinova to their roster. Farkhutdinova had been playing for one of SKIF’s youth teams — she is only 15 years old, and becomes the fifth player born in 2000 to be listed on a WHL roster this season.
There were some interesting player moves in the KHL, as well, this past week. As expected, former NHL forward David Booth has joined Admiral Vladivostok, and he celebrated his arrival by posting three assists in his first game for his new club. He now has a line of 3 gp, 0-4-4, so off to a good start!
As mentioned last week, high-scoring defenseman Kirill Koltsov has found himself on the outs with Salavat Yulaev Ufa. Well, the latest update is that Koltsov passed through waivers unclaimed, and has been assigned to Toros Neftekamsk of the VHL. However, he has not yet played for Toros, and there is now a rumour out there that he will sign for an un-named Swiss team. It is still just a rumour, however — we wait for further developments on this one.
An interesting acquisition by Amur Khabarovsk this week, with perhaps another one to follow! The KHL’s easternmost club has acquired veteran defenseman Rinat Ibragimov from Sibir, in return for a draft pick. The 29-year-old was in his first season in Novosibirsk, after spending most of his career with Metallurg Magnitogorsk (he also had a stint in Khanty-Mansiysk). So far in 2015-16, Ibragimov has scored 1-5-6 in 28 games for Sibir.
And another veteran, former NHLer Niclas Bergfors, is rumoured to be moving from Admiral Vladivostok up the A-370 highway to Khabarovsk. The 28-year-old Swede has had a difficult season, scoring 3-8-11 in 25 games and spending a short stint on Admiral’s VHL farm team in Krasnoyarsk. However, in 2014-15 he led Admiral in goals and points, posting a line of 60 gp, 21-23-44. His move to Amur is mere speculation at this point — as with Koltsov, we wait.
Over the past few seasons, Amur Khabarovsk have quite often found themselves in financial dire straits, not to mention out of playoff contention by Christmas. Thus it is both unusual and encouraging to see the club adding potentially useful parts like Ibragimov and Bergfors at this time of year, rather than selling them off. Amur’s post-season prospects for 2015-16 are not good (they are 12 points out of the final playoff spot in the East as of today), but it is also nice to see them not giving up.
Forward Nikolai Zherdev, whom we noted as having had his contract with HK Sochi cancelled a couple of weeks ago, has once again found KHL employment, signing a contract until the end of this season with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. Now 31 years old, the former fourth-overall draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets scored only 3-4-7 in 26 games for Sochi this season, and off-ice problems of the “too much partying” variety have hurt his career in recent years. However, he has at times demonstrated a real scorer’s touch at high levels of hockey, including the NHL, and could prove very helpful as Torpedo seek to keep the pressure on the top clubs in the West Conference.
One last KHL note: there is an intriguing rumour out there to the effect that we may get an off-season exhibition game between the Gagarin Cup champions and the winners of the Champions Hockey League. The KHL’s top brass has ruled out the possibility of league clubs playing in the CHL tournament, due to scheduling issues, but matches between KHL sides and top teams from other European circuits would be great fun. Let us hope that it comes to pass!
And, we will finish off as usual by checking in with our players of particular interest in the 2015-16 KHL season:
G Juha Metsola (Amur Khabarovsk): 35 gp, 1.84 GAA, .935 sv%. He did what he could this week, posting a .955 sv% and a GAA of about 1.5 over four games. Not his fault at all that Amur came out of it with only one win from those games…
D Ziyat Paigin (HK Sochi): 21 gp, 3-7-10, +0, 4 PiM, 12:14 TOI/gm. His five-game point streak (!) ended this week, but it has still been a fine stretch for Paigin, who went 3-4-7 in ten November games. Sochi have taken at least a point from six straight games, and Paigin has really been a huge part of that.
D Nikita Zaitsev (CSKA Moscow): 29 gp, 5-11-16, +15, 12 PiM, 20:41 TOI/gm. I confess to being slightly disappointed in Zaitsev’s numbers this season (although that +/- is awfully nice). They’re not bad at all, but I had looked for better. Anyway, he scored 1-1-2 in three games this week, which is just fine.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): 34 gp, 11-8-19, +3, 48 PiM, 16:26 TOI/gm. Slump, busted! After six games without a point, Prokhorkin picked up an assist against Metallurg Novokuznetsk and then two goals against Barys Astana this week (see clip below for the first of those two goals). Salavat Yulaev now have five regulation wins in a row, too.
F Olli Palola (Vityaz Moscow Oblast): 23 gp, 1-2-3, -7, 8 PiM, 13:31 TOI/gm. Missed two of his team’s three games this week, as his nightmare season continues. The coaching change at Vityaz could mean the end of Palola’s time there, and rumours already have him heading to Jokerit.
F Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk): 36 gp, 25-21-46, +8, 0 PiM: 21:20 TOI/gm. A line of 3-4-7, +6 in three games? Yes, that counts as a good week. He now leads the KHL in points by four, and in goals by six.
That’s it for this week! There will be more news notes next Monday, and please do check back for other things here in the meantime (although I make no promises). Thanks for reading!