Russian Hockey News Notes: January 6th, 2016
Yes, we’re back, and here’s a new edition of news notes! There are quite a few matters to get caught up on, and we will launch into them below the jump, starting with the dramatic events in Helsinki yesterday!
The 2015-16 edition of the World Junior Championship wrapped up yesterday in Finland, and if you missed the Final between the host nation and Russia, you missed a heck of a game. It was everything one could ask for in an international hockey final: fast, full of skill all over the ice, and almost unbearably close. A quick recap:
Russia took the lead early on in the first period through a goal by Vladislav Kamenev, then had goalie Alexander Georgiyev to thank for keeping them ahead, as he rebuffed an onslaught of Finnish pressure in the second frame. It went to the third at 1-0, but Patrik Laine tied things up just 24 seconds in. Undaunted, Russia retook the advantage a couple of minutes later on Andrei Svetlakov’s top-corner wrist-shot. By the middle of the period we were level again, this time thanks to Finland’s Sebastian Aho, and the home side appeared to clinch things late when Mikko Rantanen scored on the powerplay to make it 3-2 Finland with just a couple of minutes left. Kamenev’s emotions got the better of him; he was dismissed for berating the officials, presumably over the penalty call. That appeared to be all she wrote…
But there were more twists to come. As they had in the quarter-final against Denmark, Russia found a last-minute equalizer — Svetlakov again, with only seven seconds remaining. And off we went, to a 20-minute, sudden-death, four-on-four, overtime period. It would prove to be of short duration. Just a minute and a half in, Kasperi Kapanen’s wraparound attempt eluded Georgiyev’s despairing lunge, and the Finns were gold-medal winners on home turf. It will, and should, go down as one of the great World Junior final games of all time.
For Finland, it is a fourth World Juniors gold, and the second in three years. The junior Russians have now appeared on the podium at six straight editions of the tournament; this was their second straight silver medal finish.
While it must be somewhat disappointing to come so close to gold without getting it, the Russian team need not hang its head; they had an excellent tournament. Russia swept the preliminary round, their only “blemish” being the need for a shootout to beat the Czech Republic. The quarterfinal saw them severely tested by a surprising Danish team, but coach Valery Bragin kept his young charges from panicking, and they pulled through in overtime. Then a tidy, workmanlike, 2-1 victory over an excellent American team saw them through to today’s Final, which we have already discussed. So, a good job all ’round.
One player who stood out particularly from what was quite a balanced lineup: defenseman Ivan Provorov. A native of Yaroslavl who currently plays for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, Provorov scored 0-8-8 in the tournament, tying him for fourth overall in assists. He was third in points by defensemen, and was one of only three blueliners to score more than four. The Philadelphia Flyers, who took Provorov seventh overall in last June’s NHL draft, will be pleased.
Others worthy of a quick mention: Kamenev, whose five goals led the Russian team and tied him for third in the tournament, and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s Yegor Korshkov, whose line of 2-6-8 tied him with Provorov for the team lead in points.
Coach Valery Bragin’s contract is up this spring, and the Russian Hockey Federation will have a bit of a decision to make (as will Bragin himself). The 59-year-old has guided the Russian juniors through four World Championships (2011, 2012, 2015 and 2016), winning a gold and three silver medals — an impressive haul! Evidence would suggest that retaining him for the 2017 tournament in Canada would be a solid decision; we shall see how it all turns out.
Almost lost amid the excitement of the gold medal game was the fact that IIHF President Rene Fasel yesterday confirmed that Russia will host the 2022 World Juniors. Prospective sites mentioned for the tournament: St. Petersburg, where the very first World Junior Championship was held in the early 1970s, and Novosibirsk.
If you enjoyed watching the youngsters play hockey, never fear — there is more of that to come! The U18 Women’s World Championship begins on Friday, January 8th, in St. Catharines, Ontario. Russia, in Group A, will open the tournament that day with a matchup against the host Canadians, and things get no easier on Saturday when the U.S. is the opposition. They will finish off the preliminary round with a game against the Czechs on Monday the 11th.
The Russian team will be seeking a repeat of last year’s bronze medal won in the United States. Is it doable, and if so, how will they go about it? We will discuss that here on Thursday, but in the meantime, here is their tournament roster (in Russian).
The senior Russian women’s team was in action on Tuesday as well, facing Canada at the Nations Cup tournament in Germany. While Yelina Mitrofanova gave the Russians the lead in the second period, their opponents recovered with four straight markers of their own, before Valeriya Pavlova scored late to make the final 4-2 for Canada. Yekaterina Smolina assisted on both goals for the Russian team.
Things went better for Russia today against Sweden: a 2-1 victory, with goals from Angelina Goncharenko and Olga Sosina to go with 20 saves by Anna Prugova. The result means that Russia will take on Germany on Thursday for third place in the six-nation tournament (Canada and Finland will play for gold, while Sweden and Switzerland contest fifth place).
With that, we leave aside the international scene, and turn to the KHL, where, in the lead-up to the late December transfer deadline, defending champions SKA St. Petersburg did some major work on the forward corps. First up was an old-school hockey trade with Avangard Omsk; SKA sent away one of their top scorers, Anton Burdasov (41 gp, 14-17-31 for SKA this year) and depth player Pyotr Khokhryakov and received former Vancouver Canucks prospect Sergei Shirokov in return. Shirokov, now 29, was having a bit of a down year by his standards, scoring 12-11-23 in 42 games, but he potted 22 goals in only 33 games last season, so there are real possibilities there. Since arriving in St. Petersburg, he has a goal and two assists in four games. Burdasov has recorded two assists in five games with Avangard.
That done, SKA turned around and acquired one of Russian hockey’s emerging talents, as forward Pavel Buchnevich arrived from Severstal Cherepovets. Buchnevich, a 20-year-old native of Cherepovets, had been Severstal’s leading scorer, scoring 12-17-29 in 40 games for them this season; that equaled his previous career high in points, achieved in 48 games in 2014-15. While Buchnevich, whose NHL rights are held by the New York Rangers, has yet to find the net himself in four games for his new team, he did collect his first point, an assist, for them today against Vityaz.
Veteran Swedish checking forward Jonas Enlund was SKA’s next addition, prized away from Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Bad luck, however, has derailed this move; Enlund was injured in his first game for SKA, and will likely miss the rest of the season.
To make make room for the new figures on the front lines, SKA bid farewell to noted enforcer Yevgeny Artyukhin, who had three assists and 64 penalty minutes in 35 games this season. Artyukhin was not able to find himself another KHL team before the deadline passed, so will not be back in the league until 2016-17 at the earliest.
The upshot of it all: SKA are completely loaded at forward — so much so that they made captain Ilya Kovalchuk a healthy scratch for today’s game against Vityaz. While Burdasov will certainly be missed, the additions of Buchnevich, Shirokov, and — earlier on — Steve Moses and Nikita Gusev mean that the chances of a Gagarin Cup repeat are much, much, greater than they appeared just a couple of months ago.
Some other KHL deadline moves of note:
Scoring blueliner Kirill Koltsov is back in the league, having signed on with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. Koltsov was let go late in 2015 by Salavat Yulaev Ufa — a surprising move, given that the 32-year-old from Chelyabinsk was coming off two consecutive seasons in which he had led the KHL in points by defensemen. However, in 2015-16, he struggled early, scoring 1-10-11 in 23 games and going -5 before his release. Furthermore, Koltsov saw fellow-rearguard Alexander Loginov, acquired by Salavat Yulaev from Avtomobilist early in the season, usurp his point-scoring duties with a line of 8-19-27 in 32 games.
And so it is off to Nizhny Novgorod, where Torpedo have been hanging about just behind the West Division leaders for most of the season. Since his arrival at his new club, Koltsov has one goal and one assist in two games, and is -1. His goal was a big one too; scored late in the third against Ak Bars today, it tied the game and eventually enabled Torpedo to snatch a shootout victory.
A familiar KHL goaltending face switched teams over the holiday break, as former Atlant and CSKA ‘keeper Stanislav Galimov now finds himself in Tatarstan with Ak Bars Kazan. It will be the 27-year-old’s second go-round in Kazan, as he work Ak Bars colours between 2008 and 2012.
Galimov began this season at CSKA, where he posted a decent-enough .923 save percentage as part of a tandem with Sweden’s Viktor Fasth. However, the emergence of young Ilya Sorokin as, frankly, one of the best goalies in the KHL (.952 save percentage in 19 games so far), created a bit of overcrowding in Red Army’s crease, and something had to give. In the end, it was Galimov who was packing his bags.
In three games for Ak Bars since his return, Galimov has a sterling save percentage of .949, and one shutout.
Heading the other way in the deal that brought Galimov to Kazan is 25-year-old forward Kirill Petrov, who has returned to Russia after an unsuccessful stint in the New York Islanders organization. Petrov, a local product, had been in the Ak Bars system from childhood until this past summer, when he decided to try his luck in Brooklyn with the Isles, who had drafted him in 2008. However, he failed to crack the opening-night roster, and was sent off to Bridgeport of the AHL. A modest scoring line of 1-4-5 in 13 games there apparently convinced Petrov to return home, and Ak Bars, still holders of his KHL rights, flipped him to CSKA for Galimov.
In truth, Petrov has never been a prolific scorer (he has a career KHL line of 262 gp, 56-57-113), but at 6’3″ tall and 230 lbs., it is likely that he will be useful to CSKA at least as a checking forward. So far, he has played two games for the Moscow giants, and has yet to record a point for them.
Petrov is not the only young Russian returning home from the AHL this winter. Towering centre Bogdan Yakimov (6’5″ and 231 lbs.), an Edmonton Oilers prospect, has been sent on loan to his hometown club, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk. Yakimov scored 7-5-12 in 33 games for Neftekhimik in 2013-14 before crossing the ocean to the Oilers’ organization; that might not seem like much in the way of scoring, but he was only 18, and had limited ice-time to boot. His two AHL seasons, first in Oklahoma City and then this year in Bakersfield, were troubled by injuries, but he still managed a line of 15-20-35 in 76 AHL games. Oiler fans will be hoping that they have not seen the last of him.
Neftekhimik fans will be glad to see him, too. The team is poised on the very edge of the East Conference playoff picture at the moment. As of today, they’re in, but Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg are a mere two points back with a game in hand. Yakimov has yet to suit up for Neftekhimik since his return, and may still be nursing an injury.
Those, then, were the major or most interesting moves during the break, although by no means all of them. And so it is time to get caught up on our team of players whom we’ve been tracking here at the blog:
G Juha Metsola (Amur Khabarovsk): 42 gp, 2.07 GAA, .929 sv%. His numbers are down a little bit since last time, but Metsola is still having a heck of a season on the banks of the Amur.
Ziyat Paigin with a nicely-tipped goal against Amur.
D Ziyat Paigin (HK Sochi): 32 gp, 5-13-18, +5, 6 PiM, 14:07 TOI/gm. Six points in his last five games, and Paigin is becoming a real story for Sochi this season. He played 3:30 of the five-minute overtime today against Severstal (Sochi ended up losing in a shootout) — earlier this season, he would not have gotten close to the ice in the third period of a close game, let alone OT.
D Nikita Zaitsev (CSKA Moscow): 37 gp, 6-17-23, +19, 16 PiM, 20:48 TOI/gm. After a quiet — though far from bad — start to the season, Zaitsev has seven points in seven games, including a pair of assists in today’s top-of-the-conference clash with Lokomotiv, which CSKA won 4-0.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): 44 gp, 15-13-28, +7, 54 PiM, 16:40 TOI/gm. Prokkhorkin had his best game of the season today, with a hat-trick plus an assist, although Salavat Yulaev went down 5-4 to Amur Khabarovsk in overtime.
F Olli Palola (Vityaz Moscow Oblast): 27 gp, 1-4-5, -8, 10 PiM, 13:42 TOI/gm. Injury and ineffectiveness have turned this season into a nightmare for Palola, who hasn’t been in the Vityaz lineup since December 9th. One bright spot — he was called up to the Finnish team for the recent Channel One Cup, and recorded a goal in two games.
F Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk): 46 gp, 29-28-57, +8, 0 PiM: 21:20 TOI/gm. He’s eight clear of the KHL field in points, and five in goals, so it will be hard work to take those trophies from him. The big question now: will he break Steve Moses’ record for goals in a season? Mozyakin is seven back of it, with 14 games to play.
And that will do for this week. As noted, tomorrow we look at the Russian team for the upcoming Women’s U18 World Championship. Tomorrow is also Christmas Day on the Orthodox calendar — to those celebrating on Thursday, Счастливого Рождества!