Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: December 16th, 2015
The much-delayed news notes are finally here! And we will start with a birthday note: Tuesday was the 92nd such occasion for Viktor Grigoryevich Shuvalov, one of the original greats of Soviet hockey in the 1940s and 1950s (I invite you to check out our ongoing series on early hockey seasons in the USSR for more). He is the last surviving member of the USSR squad that won the country’s first world championship in 1954, and its first Olympic gold in 1956. Shuvalov, a native of Chelyabinsk, played forward on a spectacular line with Vsevolod Bobrov and Yevgeny Babich at VVS MVO Moscow and Central Red Army, as well as for the Soviet national team, and he twice won the Soviet Championship’s scoring title. Happy Birthday, Viktor Grigoryevich!
Below the jump, we’ve got KHL talk, international hockey talk, a little bit of NHL talk, and so on!
The big news of the week: we are just about at the point where we can write in a Chinese KHL team for 2016-17 in pen! Reports from KHL higher-ups state that the new club will play at the MasterCard Center in Beijing, an 18,000-seater built for the 2008 Olympic basketball tournament. From the sounds of things, there will also be a Chinese junior club in the MHL associated with the KHL squad, as well as a farm team playing in a local league. Funding for the venture will come from both Russian and Chinese sources.
Beijing will host the 2022 Winter Olympics, and the proposed KHL team is certainly part of the country’s preparations for that event. The Chinese men’s team is currently ranked 38th in the world out of 50 (the women are 16th out of 37), so we can expect to see a major effort to improve that number in the coming years.
The big question, of course: will it work, for Chinese hockey, for the KHL, or for both? Beijing (population: 11.5 million) certainly can support high-level hockey, and from the sounds of it the arena will not need a huge amount of work to switch from basketball to dual-use.
China does not, probably, have enough high-level hockey talent to fill an entire KHL roster, so expect a good number of foreign players in early editions of the team. If all goes as planned, and the new team makes its debut next fall, it will most likely do so as part of the Chernyshev Division, with the likes of Amur Khabarovsk and Admiral Vladivostok.
With Monday’s’s tidy 4-1 victory by Jokerit Helsinki over Medveščak Zagreb, the KHL now embarks on its second long break of the season, with games to resume on the 22nd. In the meantime, there is international hockey! The senior men’s team is preparing to host Finland, Sweden, and the Czech Republic in the Channel One Cup, the second leg of the Euro Hockey Tour. The Channel One Cup, a direct descendant of the old Izvestia Tournament from Soviet Days, will run from the 17th to the 20th, with games taking place at Dynamo Moscow’s VTB Arena.
The 28-player Russian squad for the games can be seen here (in Russian), and it has got a real SKA St. Petersburg vibe to it; the defending champions, despite their rough start to this season, have contributed nine players. CSKA Moscow and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl are sending five apiece, while Metallurg Magnitogorsk will be represented by a quartet.
Sweden, incidentally, won the first leg of the EHT, the Karjala Cup, in Finland in November. Russia went a disappointing 1-2, finishing third out of four, and will very much like to improve matters on home ice.
The women’s national team will also be in action this week, at a four nations tournament in Finland that runs from the 17th to the 19th. Germany and Sweden will join Russia and the hosts at that one. The Russian squad for this tournament is entirely composed of players based in the Russian Women’s Hockey League, with the team break-down as follows:
- Tornado Moscow Oblast: 8
- Agidel Ufa: 8
- Dynamo St. Petersburg: 7
- SKIF Nizhny Novgorod: 4
- Biryusa Krasnoyarsk: 1
The Russian women’s team has had an excellent autumn so far, with a record of 10-0. However, the presence of Finland and Sweden at this tournament means that it will be their toughest test yet.
And if that is not enough international hockey to get you through the week, the Russian U18 team is also in action at the World Junior A Challenge in Cobourg and Whitby, Ontario. This is not an actual U18 tournament — the Russian youngsters will be facing teams that are slightly older than they are on average, but not composed of the their nations’ top junior players (those worthies, of course, are preparing for the World Junior Championship later on this month).
Switzerland and Canada East made up the rest of the Russia’s group for this tournament, with the U.S.A., Czech Republic, and Canada West in the other. An interesting challenge, and it gave us an early opportunity to see how having the Russian U18s play as a league club in the junior MHL is working out. Speaking of the which, the U18s’ MHL campaign is currently going well — they lead the Centre Division by six points.
Early evidence is that they can handle the international scene, too. The Russians opened their tournament on Monday evening with a 6-1 victory over Canada East, paced by two goals from Mikhail Maltsev and a 28-save performance by goalie Vladislav Sukhachyov. On Tuesday, Maltsev scored again, and Mikhail Berdin posted a shutout in a 2-0 win over Switzerland. The Americans now await the Russian team in the tournament semi-final on Thursday.
Back to the KHL, where, as we noted last week, Steve Moses has returned to action as a member of SKA St. Petersburg. The league’s record-holder for most goals in a season (36, in 2014-15 with Jokerit), has wasted little time getting back to his old ways. He scored in first game with SKA against Salavat Yulaev, and added another goal and an assist in his second, against Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Better yet, SKA won both games (by the same 5-3 score), against tough opposition, and have quietly crept up to sixth in the West Conference, nine points clear of the dreaded ninth spot. Last year’s Gagarin Cup winners have now won eight in a row, and even if four of those victories have come in extra time, the streak still goes a long way towards erasing memories of the disastrous opening weeks of 2015-16.
Spartak Moscow took advantage of the visit of Salavat Yulaev this past week to honour former forward Nikolai Borschevsky, now an assistant coach in Ufa, with a banner-raising ceremony. Borschevsky only played three seasons for Spartak, bracketed around a brief NHL career in the 1990s, but it was as a Spartak player that he led the 1992 Olympic tournament with seven goals for the “Unified Team” as they won the gold medal. Until this week, he was the only Olympic champion Spartak player not to have seen his number raised to the rafters, so that oversight has now been corrected.
Borschevsky, of course, is best known to North American fans for this overtime goal in the 1993 playoffs:
There was some controversy with Spartak this week — the club arranged to play a few games, mostly for old times’ sake, at their former Sokolniki Arena base (they have been holding most of their home matches at the Luzhniki Small Sports Arena — an older building, but one more suitable for KHL hockey). And it was at the Sokolniki that they took on Metallurg Magnitogorsk last Wednesday. “Magnitka” appeared to have it won, leading 2-1 as the clock wound down, but Spartak’s Yevgeny Bodrov scored with less than a second left to send things to extras, and the home side eventually won it on penalty shots. Metallurg, however, have appealed the result, claiming that Bodrov’s goal entered the net after time had expired.
It is plausible enough, especially as the official game clock had apparently been acting up throughout the match. However, it is also unlikely that the KHL will take any action on the matter. Part of the problem is that there is no video for the game — the Sokolniki, no longer in regular KHL use, is not equipped with the necessary technology for broadcasts. Spartak will play three more games there this season, including their next outing, on December 22nd against Jokerit.
The Magnitogorsk team, incidentally, also made the week’s biggest transfer news, signing Alexander Semin (or Syomin) to a contract until the end of the season. Semin, you may recall, was recently waived by the Montreal Canadiens, and had his contract terminated by mutual consent rather than head to the AHL. As we have noted here before, Semin is a gifted scorer, with skill to burn, who has had questions asked about his work ethic in the past. He should, however, provide a substantial weapon to a team already stacked with them — suffice it to say that no goalie is particularly going to look forward to a trip to Magnitogorsk.
Metallurg also welcomed home a prodigal native son last week, as they signed centre Alexei Kaigorodov after his contract with Dynamo Moscow had been cancelled. Kaigorodov, now 32 years old, came up through the youth system at Metallurg, and played for the team from 1998 until 2013 before moving to Salavat Yulaev Ufa. He actually began 2015-16 at Barys Astana and moved to Dynamo early on, but has struggled to find his scoring tough; the season has seen him score only five assists in 30 games. However, he went 8-23-31 in 47 games for Salavat Yulaev in 2014-15, and Metallurg certainly have men who can bury his passes!
KHL veteran Jakub Petružálek is back in the league after a little while away. The 30-year-old Czech forward won a Gagarin Cup with Dynamo Moscow in 2012-13, and has now re-signed with the Moscow giants, where he should prove a more than adequate replacement for Kaigorodov. He also spent KHL time with Amur Khabarovsk, Ak Bars Kazan, and — most recently — Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, with whom he began the 2014-15 season. Petružálek departed mid-way through for Litvinov of the Czech league, and then found himself with Sweden’s Örebro HK to start 2015-16. Overall, he has 141 points in 205 KHL games, which is just fine.
Metallurg Novokuznetsk appear to be in money-saving mode again at this point, as a key member of the team was sent away this week. Forward Maxim Kazakov, already an assistant captain at only 22 years old, was traded to Avangard Omsk in return for prospect forward Kirill Semenov. Semenov had played seven games without a point for Avangard this season, while posting four points in 14 VHL games for Saryarka Karaganda.
As for Kazakov, he was Metallurg’s top scorer this season; his line 14-12-26 in 39 games put him just ahead of the also-departed Ryan Stoa. Additionally, Kazakov had managed a +6 — this on a team that has been outscored by 35 goals so far this season. He will, safe to say, be missed. The development system in Novokuznetsk is top-notch, it really is, and it is a shame that the team does not get the funding necessary to hold to its talent a little bit longer.
Another team saying goodbye to an important piece was Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk. Having already dealt with the departure of Nikita Gusev to SKA, the little team from the North this week sent captain Andrei Ivanov to Ak Bars Kazan for cash. Ivanov, who had 15 points in 41 games for Ugra this season, will provide some veteran depth for Ak Bars, if not much in the way of scoring. He can also play tough if need be — Ivanov is currently tied for fourth in the KHL in penalty minutes this season, with 80.
There were a number of foreign players on the move this week as well. Briefly: Dinamo Riga have parted ways with veteran Finnish forward Ville Leino, while Barys Astana have done likewise with Canada’s Keaton Ellerby for an unspecified disciplinary issue. American NHL and AHL veteran Tim Kennedy, who had started this year with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, will apparently finish it in Helsinki with Jokerit. Neftekhimik will look to replace him with Czech forward Marek Kvapil, acquired this week from Medveščak Zagreb.
There were a number of other minor moves this week, leading up to the transfer deadline on December 25th, but those mentioned will do for now.
All-Star voting is underway in the KHL, and you can cast your ballot here until the 21st. I had mentioned doing a post here — the “official blog ballot” — and simply didn’t get to it last week. I shall try to do better this weekend!
A quick NHL note: The Anaheim Ducks placed goalie Anton Khudobin on waivers this week, and have since sent him to their AHL farm team in San Diego. The 29-year-old from Kazakhstan (he plays his international hockey for Russia) had a .908 save percentage in eight games for Anaheim this season, after playing for Carolina, Boston, and Minnesota in previous years.
Time once again to check in with the players whom we’re following with particular interest this season!
G Juha Metsola (Amur Khabarovsk): 39 gp, 1.87 GAA, .935 sv%. Spoiler alert: I voted for him for the East Conference All-Star team, although it was a heck of a difficult choice. He’s having a great season out in the Far East.
D Ziyat Paigin (HK Sochi): 24 gp, 3-9-12, +0, 6 PiM, 12:41 TOI/gm. Since coming to HK Sochi early in the season, Paigin has posted a points-per-60 of 2.48. The pts/60 for the top five scoring defensemen in the KHL this season? 1.65, 1.91, 2.24, 2.11, and 2.17. So he’s doing just fine, to say the least!
D Nikita Zaitsev (CSKA Moscow): 32 gp, 5-13-18, +16, 12 PiM, 20:45 TOI/gm. His pts/60 is 1.63, incidentally. It’s been a bit of a down year for him, scoring-wise, but he’s remains one of the best Russian defenseman, and will be with the national team for its games this week.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): 39 gp, 12-11-23, +3, 52 PiM, 16:26 TOI/gm. He posted a couple of assists in the run-up to the break, and, like Zaitsev, got the call to the national team. And his coach said some nice things about him.
F Olli Palola (Vityaz Moscow Oblast): 27 gp, 1-4-5, -8, 10 PiM, 13:42 TOI/gm. With Palola, sadly, we’re at the point where even an assist in a given week is good news. And so it was with this week, although the assist was retroactively awarded for an earlier game. Still a very tough season for him.
F Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk): 40 gp, 28-21-49, +8, 0 PiM: 21:20 TOI/gm. With Steve Moses back in the KHL, we should point out that Mozyakin is creeping on his record for goals in a season. He’s now only eight back of the 36 Moses scored last season, and there are 20 games to go!
That’s it for this week! Thank you for reading, and the next edition of the news notes should be out on Monday.