This is a happy time of year for international hockey fans! The last week or so has borne witness to tournaments in a number of places, and there is still more to come on the schedule. So, below the jump, we’ll check in on what has happened with the various Russian national teams in action last week, and look ahead to the competitions that will be starting up soon. This will serve as a sort of abbreviated Weekly News Notes; we will take a look at the domestic Russian hockey news later this week, when the KHL transfer deadline has passed.
To begin, then: this past week saw the Channel One Cup, the Russian-hosted leg of the Euro Hockey Tour, take place in Moscow (the Channel One Cup, incidentally, is a direct linear descendant of the old Izvestia Tournament, which was held every December in Soviet days). Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic were the visitors, with the Swedes having won the EHT’s first leg in November. The Russian team, on that occasion, finished third, and was understandably hoping for better things on home ice.
However, the Channel One Cup must go down as a great disappointment to the home side this year. The Russians opened with a 4-1 loss to Sweden, a game marked by Ilya Kovalchuk losing his temper and taking a bad penalty late on to hinder any chance of a comeback. Duly chastened, Russia responded with a thunderous 8-1 demolition of Finland in their second game. Kovalchuk redeemed himself with a pair of goals, and Alexander Radulov and Danis Zaripov also tallied twice. The Finns could console themselves with the knowledge that they had hardly been in fighting trim; a number of the Finnish players had suffered a bout of food poisoning the night before, and were still not feeling well.
That result, and others, meant that despite their opening-game loss, the Russians had a chance to clinch the tournament title with a win over the Czech Republic. It was not to be. The home side took a 2-1 lead early in the second period, but the Czechs roared back with three straight goals to win the game 4-2, and claim the cup as well. The result dropped Russia all the way to fourth, and left Head Coach Oleg Znarok with some thinking to do between now and the next set of Euro Tour games in February.
Znarok may be somewhat on the hot seat at this point; his boss, Russian Hockey Federation President Vladislav Tretyak, has already said ominously that the FHR will “evaluate” the Russian coaching staff’s work in the wake of the poor finish at the Channel One. The concern is understandable, as Moscow and St. Petersburg will host the IIHF World Championship this coming May.
An interesting historical side-note: Against the Czech Republic, Russia wore blue sweaters for the first time since way back in 1954 (see photo above), when the Soviet Union made its debut at the World Championship. While not as successful yest as those long-ago sweaters (the USSR won that World Championship), the 2015 editions look sharp — at least in my opinion — and hopefully will get a second chance!
For the women’s national team, in Finland for a four-nations tournament with Sweden, Germany, and the hosts, it was also a bit of a down week. Russia dropped her first game, 4-1 against Finland, and was then beaten 3-2 in a penalty shootout by Sweden. Finally, SKIF Nizhny Novgorod’s Mariya Pechnikova scored in overtime to get the Russian women a 3-2 win against Germany. In truth, that one could have been over much earlier; Russia outshot their opponents 38-12, but found German goalie Ivonne Schröder at the top of her game.
There were some notable performances from individual players on the Russian team, even beyond Pechnikova’s overtime goal. The Tornado Moscow Oblast duo of Anna Shokhina and Yelena Dergachyova each had two points against Germany. And Mariya Batalova’s goal in the opening-game loss to Finland turned out to be only one the hosts conceded all tournament; the Finns went 3-0 with a 13-1 GF-GA.
Mariya Sorokina played most of the minutes in goal for Russia (Anna Prugova also saw some action), and is probably the favourite to be the main starter when the World Championship rolls around this March in Canada.
Despite the third-out-of-four finish in this tournament, it has been an excellent autumn for the Russian women’s team, as their overall record stands now at 11-2. They will next look to keep that record going at the Nations Cup in Germany in early January. In addition to Russia and the hosts, Sweden, Finland, and Canada will be in attendance for that one.
While the senior teams were struggling, the Russian boys’ Under-18 side was most certainly not. Facing Under-20 opposition, albeit not the best of the best in that age category, at the World Junior ‘A’ Challenge in Ontario, the Russian youngsters topped their group with victories over Canada East (6-1) and Switzerland (2-0). That earned them a bye into the semi-finals, where they came up against a United States team that had won the tournament the three previous years without losing a single game.
It was a match to remember. The powerhouse Americans looked the part early on, out-shooting Russia 16-2 in the first period. However, both Russian shots found the back of the net, and the score stood at 2-2 after 20 minutes. In the second, the U.S. held a 14-6 edge in shots, but German Rubtsov scored twice for Russia, and it was 4-4 after 40. Finally, in the third period, the young Russians seized the upper hand, out-shooting their opponents 9-5 and racking up three more goals for a remarkable 7-4 victory.
After that, the final against Canada East was almost an anti-climax. The Canadians won it 2-1, and Russia had to come away with a silver medal. However, that must be seen as a good result, and it also serves to vindicate, at least partially, the Russian Hockey Federation’s decision to have the Under-18 team play as a club in the MHL this season. Of course, the final verdict on that move will not be known until the U18 World Championship in the United States in April.
As far as individuals are concerned, we should note goalie Mikhail Berdin, who posted a tournament-best .968 save percentage in parts of four games. Rubtsov (2-3-5) and Artur Kayumov (1-4-5) led the way for the Russian on offense; Kayumov’s four assists tied him for second on the tournament leaderboard. So those are definitely names to keep in mind when the U18s return to action.
We turn now to what is upcoming on the calendar. This weekend will see the opening of one of the biggest events on the international calendar, when the World U20 Championship — the “World Juniors” — starts in Helsinki. Russian coach Valery Bragin’s crew will face group stage matches against the Czech Republic (Dec. 26th), Finland (Dec. 28th), Belarus (Dec. 29th), and Slovakia (Dec. 31st).
The final Russian roster for the tournament was just announced on Tuesday, and the 25-man list is dominated by players from the KHL (12, including three from Lokomotiv Yaroslavl) and the various Canadian junior leagues (nine). Russia will take one player each from the MHL, the VHL, the AHL, and the Finnish Liiga.
That last is a bit unusual for a Russian team — it’s goalie Alexander Georgiyev of TPS Turku, and I’ll be very interested to see how he does if he gets any playing time behind Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s Ilya Samsonov, a first-round draft pick of the Washington Capitals. The third goalie on the team, incidentally, is a famous name: Maxim Tretyak, of VHL team Zvezda Chekhov, is the grandson of the famous Vladislav.
Other players to watch on the Russian team? Well, there are several NHL first-rounders besides Samsonov, and I am particularly interested in forward Yevgeny Svechnikov (see highlights above), the Detroit Red Wings prospect from far-eastern Sakhalin Island. Denis Guryanov, picked 12th by the Dallas Stars in the 2015 draft is another one — he has struggled in the KHL with Lada Tolyatti this season (31 gp, 1-3-4), but has immense promise. I would also recommend keeping an eye out for forward Kirill Kaprizov of Metallurg Novokuznetsk. He has not yet seen his 19th birthday go by, but has scored 9-14-23 in 40 KHL games this season, and the Novokuznetsk organization has a habit of turning out very decent prospects indeed. The Minnesota Wild, who picked Kaprizov in the fifth round in 2015, may have found themselves a real bargain there.
Russia earned a silver medal at the 2014-15 World Juniors in Canada, dropping the final to the hosts by a 5-4 score. While odd things can happen in a short tournament, Russia should be among the favourites again this time out.
Just a couple of days after the World Juniors gold medal game on January 5th, the Under-18 World Women’s Championship starts up in St. Catharines, Ontario.
The 2015 edition of this tournament was a highly successful one for the Russians. Not only did they win the bronze medal — the country’s first podium finish at the event — but they twice gave the powerhouse Canadian team all it could handle, losing 3-2 and 3-1. Can they do it again?
Well, maybe. Anna Shokhina, such a big part of the last year’s success, has graduated on up to the senior national team, and she will be missed. However, there are a number of veterans of the 2015 team returning, none more important than forward Fanuza Kadirova of Arktik Universitet Ukhta. Kadirova scored eight points in six games at last year’s tournament, made the senior team for the “big” World Championship, and is currently tied for fourth in scoring in the Women’s Hockey League with 31 points in 16 games.
Forward Landish Falyakhova (SKIF Nizhny Novgorod) and defender Nina Pirogova (Tornado Moscow Oblast) are other important returnees, along with goalie Valeriya Tarakanova.
Finally, back to the coming weekend, which will feature not only the beginning of the World Juniors, but the opening of the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland. The 90-year-old invitational club tournament is one of the hockey season’s cheerful high points; since 1923, host HC Davos has brought in teams from across Europe and occasionally the North American minor leagues, while in recent decades a Team Canada composed of Europe- and AHL-based players has become a Spengler Cup regular as well.
Russia’s appearances in the the Spengler Cup go back to 1967, when Lokomotiv Moscow became the first participants — and, that same year, the first Cup-winners — from the Soviet Championship. Teams from the USSR enjoyed great succes at the Spengler Cup in the 1970s and ’80s, and in recent seaons, KHL clubs have been regular participants. SKA St. Petersburg were the league’s most recent winners of the Cup, in 2010.
Last season saw two KHL teams in the Spengler for the first time, as Medveščak Zagreb and Salavat Yulaev Ufa were entrants. There will once again by a KHL pair in Davos next week, with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg and Jokerit Helsinki doing the honours. In addition, the Dinamo Minsk duo of goalie Jeff Glass and forward Matt Ellison are on the Team Canada roster. Adler Mannheim from Germany and the Swiss League’s HC Lugano will join hosts HC Davos in making up the rest of the field.
That will do for a look at the current international hockey scene vis-à-vis Russia, I think. We’ll be back this weekend or early next week to get caught up on the KHL, and then we’ll get back to the regular News Notes schedule. In the meantime, enjoy the hockey, and of course a very Merry Christmas to all celebrating it tomorrow!