Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: December 7th, 2015
Onward to another edition of the news notes! This week we check out some developments at Amur Khabarovsk, get caught up on the Women’s Hockey League, discuss the return of a record-breaking KHLer, and other things of that sort. So read on!
Andrei Nikolishin, fired by Traktor Chelyabinsk just a couple of weeks ago, is back behind a KHL bench, as the 42-year-old has been appointed head coach of Amur Khabarovsk. The Far Eastern team punted his predecessor, Sergei Shepelev, upstairs to the post of Vice President. The move does set up an intriguing scenario in terms of rivalry; Amur are currently 11th in the East Conference, just one place and three points ahead of Nikolishin’s former employers in Chelyabinsk.
Nikolishin has had a bright start at Amur; the team is 2-0 (one of those victories coming in overtime) since he took the reins.
And the team from Khabarovsk made another acquisition this past week, as they seek to close the gap on the last playoff spots. As we discussed in last Monday’s notes, there had been much talk about forward Niclas Bergfors moving over from Admiral Vladivostok to bolster the Amur attack. That move is now official, with minor-league defenseman Nikita Tserenok heading to Vladivostok as the return.
Sweden’s Bergfors, who has NHL experience with New Jersey, Atlanta, Florida, and Nashville, arrived in Khabarovsk with a line of 25 gp, 3-8-11 for Admiral this season. Not great, but in the previous two seasons in the Far East he had scored 80 points in 114 games. That is good, and at only 28 years old he has every reason to expect that he can get back to that form. Indeed, in only his second game for his new team, Bergfors scored two goals, including the overtime winner, in an important 3-2 victory over Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk.
Back to coaching news for a moment: Vityaz Moscow Oblast have announced that Ravil Yakubov will remain in charge for the rest of this season. Yakubov replaced the fired Oleg Orekhovsky last week on an interim basis, and there had been much talk that former Salavat Yulaev head man Vladimir Yurzinov, Jr., would get the permanent job. Not so, it seems — at least not until the season is over.
As for how Vityaz are faring, they snapped a ten-game losing skid on Saturday with a 3-2 overtime triumph over reeling Severstal Cherepovets, themselves now without a win in eight contests. Neither of those two teams looks likely to be on the list of participants when the playoffs begin.
It had been rumoured, and now it has come to pass: the KHL’s record single-season goalscorer is back in the league. Steve Moses, who set the mark by scoring 36 times for Jokerit Helsinki in 2014-15, has joined SKA St. Petersburg, who acquired his rights in November. Moses’ exploits last season earned him a contract from the Nashville Predators for 2015-16, but he failed to make the team out of training camp and then posted a not-bad but also not-great ten points in 16 AHL games with the Milwaukee Admirals. This past Thursday, he and the Predators organization agreed to part ways, and the 26-year-old from Massachusetts was placed on unconditional waivers. No other NHL team took a shot at him, and by Sunday he was in St. Petersburg. Moses should make his SKA debut on Wednesday, at home against Salavat Yulaev Ufa.
The acquisition of Moses was not SKA’s only significant player move of the week. The club announced today that it has signed a two-year contract extension with young forward Nikita Gusev. Gusev, 23 years old, was acquired from Ugra in October, and has scored 6-6-12 in 13 games since arriving in St. Petersburg.
Gusev must be considered one of Russia’s up-and-comers; he made his debut for the senior national team at the Karjala Cup last month. He is not a big man — 5’9″ and 163 lbs. per Elite Prospects — which may keep the NHL teams at bay somewhat (Gusev’s rights are held by the Tampa Bay Lightning, who drafted him in 2012), but do not be surprised if there is some attention directed his way from North America at some point. No word at this point on whether his new SKA contract includes an out-clause.
SKA, of course, have been one of the KHL’s big stories in the 2015-16 season, and not for pleasant reasons. Their title defense began horribly, under new coach Andrei Nazarov, and while things improved once Nazarov was let go and replaced by Sergei Zubov in October, the St. Petersburg giants have so far only managed to climb as high as seventh place in the West Conference. That leaves them looking upwards at such unlikely teams as HK Sochi, currently fifth in the conference and three points ahead of SKA.
While Sochi, the second-year team from the Black Sea coast, have enjoyed a tremendous sophomore campaign on the ice, things are not so good for them away from the rink. Forward Roman Lyuduchin revealed this last week that the club is seriously in arrears concerning wage payments, to the point where the players are considering taking matters to the courts. The team’s top brass insists that the debts will be paid off soon, but this is a situation that bears watching, particularly as the KHL transfer deadline of December 25th approaches.
Defenseman Kirill Koltsov, who had been assigned to the VHL by Salavat Yulaev Ufa, has now had his contract terminated and is a free agent. It is a move that makes sense on all levels; Koltsov, who led the KHL in scoring by defensemen in each of the last two seasons but was struggling so far this year, is far too good a player to languish away in the minor leagues. He should be in the KHL, although rumours suggest that his next port of call will be the Swiss League, at least for the rest of this season. We wait.
Speaking of situations to watch, the ownership group of proposed Estonian KHL team Ilves Tallinn will meet with the league on Tuesday to discuss matters. We will certainly discuss the outcome of that get-together in next week’s news notes.
The Russian Women’s Hockey League heads into a month-long break at this point, with the table looking much as it did a week ago. Tornado Moscow Oblast, who are in first place above Agidel Ufa only thanks to the tiebreaker (regulation wins, to be specific), survived a scare against Dynamo St. Petersburg on Friday — the defending champs fell behind 2-0 in the opening seven minutes of the game, but rallied thanks to two goals from Anna Shokhina to eke out a 3-2 victory in the end.
Fifteen-year-old goalie Diana Farkhutdinova, whom we noted was called up by SKIF Nizhny Novgorod’s youth section last week, made her RWHL debut on Friday as well, in Krasnoyarsk against Biryusa. She stopped 23 of 26 shots, which is entirely respectable, although SKIF went down to defeat by 3-2.
Next on the Russian women’s hockey schedule is a four-nation tournament in Finland which begins on the 17th (Russia, Finland, Germany, and Sweden will take part). Twenty-eight players have been summoned to the national team camp for the tournament. It should be a good test for the Russians — those are quality opponents.
A quick note: we have mentioned a couple of times here the new national amateur championship, the Amazonki Divizion of the League of Women’s Hockey. The competition’s group of teams based in Siberia and the Far East held their inaugural games at the end of November, in the village of Trudarmeisky near Kovokuznetsk, and produced the following interesting video (in Russian) about the event:
Off to the NHL, and a couple of interesting transactions involving Russian players this past week. First of all, forward Viktor Tikhonov has been claimed off waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks by the Arizona Coyotes. He had gone scoreless in 11 games for Chicago to open this season, and had been a healthy scratch on several occasions.
Tikhonov, grandson of the famous Soviet coach of the same name, actually began his North American career with the Coyotes back in 2008-09. He spent the next couple of years in the AHL (apart from a brief loan to Severstal Cherepovets in 2009-10), and then joined SKA in 2011-12. A great run in the 2012-13 KHL playoffs (18 points in 15 games) was followed by an excellent 2013-14 campaign; Tikhonov 18-16-34 in 52 regular-season games for SKA, and added 16 points in 10 World Championship contests for the Russian national team. However, he struggled to repeat that form in 2014-15, scoring 8-16-24 in 49 games during the regular season, and he contributed only a goal and an assist in 15 matches during SKA’s championship playoff run. Despite the drop in his scoring numbers, the Blackhawks were willing to offer him a contract, and he joined SKA team-mate Artemy Panarin in the Windy City. Sadly, things did not work out, so Tikhonov will take another shot at reviving his NHL career in the desert.
Panarin, incidentally, is in no danger whatsoever of seeing the waiver wire any time soon. The 24-year-old is putting up a point per game (9-18-27 in 27 contests), and has to be considered the leading candidate for the Rookie-of-the-Year award at this point.
The other bit of NHL news involving a Russian player is something we speculated about here a couple of weeks ago that has now come to pass: the Montreal Canadiens have waived forward Alexander Semin. Semin scored 1-3-4 in 15 games for the Habs after signing from Carolina in the off-season, and, like Tikhonov, he had been a healthy scratch a number of times this season.
As mentioned in that previous set of news notes, Semin is a prodigiously talented veteran player with — fairly or unfairly — a bad reputation in the effort department. Interesting, many in the advanced stats community believe that getting rid of Semin is a mistake by the Habs — here’s one example of the sorts of things being said about the move:
An oft overlooked point about Semin: Eller was at 8ish scoring chances per 60 at 5v5 with Semin/Galchenyuk, 5ish with Galchenyuk /wo13.
— Olivier Bouchard (@oli_bou) December 7, 2015
At any rate, it will be very interesting to see where he ends up, and there is a decent chance that the answer to that question will be “in the KHL.”
The annual World Junior Championship starts up later on this month in Helsinki, Finland, and there was some interesting speculation this week from Russian Hockey Federation President Vladislav Tretyak about future possibilities for hosting the tournament. With discussions underway concerning a new arena for Sibir Novosibirsk, Tretyak suggested that such a project could lead to the city bidding to host the Under-20 tournament. The earliest possible date for this would be 2022, as the venues have been determined for all the tournaments between now and then. However, it is an interesting idea nonetheless, and it would be wonderful to the World Juniors in Siberia.
Russia, incidentally, last hosted the tournament in 2013, when it was held in Ufa.
And, it is time for an update on how the six KHL players we are following with particular interest did in the past seven days. Without further ado:
G Juha Metsola (Amur Khabarovsk): 37 gp, 1.82 GAA, .935 sv%. Two games, two wins this week, and in the first of those (2-1 over Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg) he completely ruined Alexei Mikhnov’s day, as you can see from the video above.
D Ziyat Paigin (HK Sochi): 24 gp, 3-8-11, -2, 6 PiM, 12:28 TOI/gm. Recorded another assist in three games, but also went -2 over that stretch and saw his ice-time cut a bit in two of those games. He’s still doing very well lately.
D Nikita Zaitsev (CSKA Moscow): 31 gp, 5-12-17, +15, 12 PiM, 20:46 TOI/gm. Two games played, with one assist to show for it. I’d expected more scoring from Zaitsev this year, but he is certainly not doing badly.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): 37 gp, 12-9-21, +2, 48 PiM, 16:26 TOI/gm. Had a great game — a goal and an assist — as Salavat Yulaev hammered Metallurg Magnitogorsk 6-2 to begin the week. Was held scoreless in two subsequent matches, however.
F Olli Palola (Vityaz Moscow Oblast): 26 gp, 1-3-4, -7, 10 PiM, 13:38 TOI/gm. Palola had an assist in three games this week, which, sadly, counts as a successful stretch in his nightmarish 2015-16 season.
F Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk): 38 gp, 26-21-47, +8, 0 PiM: 21:20 TOI/gm. A rough week for Metallurg, as they lost both their games and were outscored 8-3. Mozyakin scored on of those three goals, and maintains his lead atop the league scoring charts.
And that’s it for this week! One quick note before go: the KHL All-Star Game’s website is up and running, and fan voting for the teams begins on December 10th. We’ll have a post up here later on this week with the official blog ballot and some discussion thereof! Thanks for reading!