Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: January 19th, 2016
All kinds of things to cover this week! We have KHL playoff races heating up, the Women’s Hockey League returning to action, a new children’s league in Moscow, and other bits and pieces of that sort. However, below the jump, we start off with a frightening story from a youth hockey game in Siberia. Read on…
Sending all kinds of good thoughts in the direction of Alexander Orekhov, who plays forward on one of Metallurg Novokuznetsk’s youth teams. Orekhov was critically injured during a game in Novosibirsk this past week when he was hit in the neck by the puck. Reports are that the 16-year-old is in a medically-induced coma with damage to his cervical vertebrae, but that his condition is at least stable. We will keep you posted.
It has been a grim January for hockey in the Kuzbass; Sergei Simonov, the young VHL forward who sustained fatal injuries in practice two weeks ago, was also a product of the Metallurg Novokunzetsk youth system.
To happier matters:
This past week saw the opening of a new children’s hockey league in Moscow, under the auspices of Legends Hockey (the “old-timers hockey” league bringing together veterans of Soviet and Russian hockey). The new kids’ circuit will bring together youngsters, ages seven to thirteen, from 22 different amateur clubs in the capital, and will play mostly on outdoor rinks. The league is being overseen by current KHL Players’ Union head Andrei Kovalenko.
For its grand opening, the Childrens’ League held a game last Thursday at the VTB Arena between some of its young players and a League of Legends team featuring famous old names such as Vladimir Myshkin, Ilya Byakin, Boris Mironov, and others. The old-timers faced a tough test from their young rivals, but prevailed in the end by a score of 8-7, and judging from the pictures an excellent time was had by all. Regular play in the Childrens’ League began this past Sunday.
Many thanks to Alexander Agapov for the heads-up on this story, and for the links! We’ll keep an eye on the league as it goes through its inaugural season.
With the Under-18 Women’s World Championship over for another year (you can read our write-up of Team Russia’s fortunes here), the Women’s Hockey League resumed play on Monday, with the big game seeing second-place Agidel Ufa hosting Dynamo St. Petersburg while trying to keep pace with top-of-the-table Tornado Moscow Oblast. The Bashkir side did not get the result it wanted; after Olga Sosina had scored twice in the third period for Agidel to get things to overtime at 3-3, Dynamo’s Yekaterina Smolina won it for the visitors in the extra frame. Agidel recovered in Tuesday’s rematch, with a Sosina hat-trick pacing them to a very necessary 4-2 victory. The Ufan team is now two points behind Tornado in the standings, with both squads having played the same number of games.
Highlights of Tuesday’s Agidel-Dynamo game — thanks to Denis Osipchuk for sending them along!
For Agidel, the games were their first under new head coach Denis Afinogenov. During the December break, the team parted company with previous bench boss Vladimir Malmygin — no reason for the change has been given, although Malmygin’s departure was apparently by mutual consent.
To the KHL now, where two teams mathematically clinched playoff berths in the last few days. CSKA Moscow and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl have both wrapped up spots in the West Conference post-season, and both have done it by being extremely stingy in the goals-against category. CSKA have conceded only 71 times in 51 games, while Lokomotiv, with goalie Alexei Murygin having 13 shutouts in 30 games, have given up 78 goals in 53 contests. How good is that? Third-fewest goals against in the league belongs to Avangard Omsk, with 100 in 52 games.
Not coincidentally, Avangard should also be the third team to clinch a post-season place. If all goes the way they want it, that will happen on Wednesday. Metallurg Novokuznetsk, meanwhile, have been mathematically eliminated after Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to SKA St. Petersburg.
Given their teams’ successful seasons, it is no surprise that CSKA coach Dmitry Kvartalnov and his Lokomotiv counterpart Alexei Kudashov will be behind the bench for the West Conference team at the KHL All-Star Game this coming weekend at the VTB in Moscow. Igor Vorobyev (Metallurg Magnitogorsk) and Andrei Skabelka (Sibir Novosibirsk) will be in charge of the East Conference squad. Alexander Radulov (CSKA) and Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk) will be captains for West and East respectively.
The KHL All-Star game tends to be hilarious good fun, as is only right. Past editions of have seen singing, “topless” goalies, pairs figure-skating, and, of course, Yegor Milovzorov’s amazing shootout goal (complete with hat).
There was another coaching change in the KHL in the last couple of days. Vladimir Krikunov, who had done admirable work directing Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk’s playoff push, has stepped down from behind the bench to take up the role of Vice-President at the club. Yevgeny Popikhin, whose last head-coaching job was at Amur Khabarovsk in 2013-14, takes over in the interim.
It’s a move with some odd timing. Neftekhimik, perennially lacking the resources necessary to compete with the top KHL clubs, have nonetheless strung together a strong season, and are still bidding hard for their first playoff appearance since 2012-13 (they are currently ninth in the East Conference, just two points behind Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg and three back of Barys Astana). The experienced Krikunov deserves much of the credit for Neftekhimik’s resurgence, and, with no disrespect to Popikhin, he’s going to be missed on game days.
Krikunov’s departure represents the 13th coaching change of the 2015-16 KHL season, a new league record (the previous mark was 12, back in 2009-2010). And there have actually been 14, if we count the one-game suspension that Avtomobilist gave head coach Andrei Razin last week as punishment for the team’s recent slump.
That move, at least, appears to have worked. Avtomobilist lost the game that Razin missed, but since his return they are 3-1, with the lone loss being a shootout defeat to league-leading CSKA Moscow. Mondays’s victory, a 6-3 thumping of powerhouse Metallurg Magnitogorsk, was particularly impressive, and it allowed Avtomobilist to nose back ahead of Neftekhimik in the chase for the final East Conference post-season spot. The two teams will seek to clarify matters further on Wednesday, when they meet in Yekaterinburg.
Wednesday will actually feature TWO critical games as far as playoff qualification is concerned, one for each conference! In addition to the Avtomobilist-Neftekhimik tilt, we will see Slovan Bratislava (76 points, eighth in the West) host Medveščak Zagreb (74 points, ninth).
One last word about coaches: rumour has it that Vyacheslav Bykov, who guided SKA St. Petersburg to the Gagarin Cup in 2014-15 before unexpectedly stepping down over the summer, is looking to return to a coaching position in the KHL. It is hard to imagine that there will not be a number of teams very definitely interested if the reports are true, and — despite the fact that Sergei Zubov has done well in St. Petersburg since replacing Andrei Nazarov — one would have to think that SKA would be at the front of the line. We shall see, but the return of the clever and classy Bykov would certainly be a welcome thing.
It was a costly week for Spartak Moscow, in terms of both money and public relations. The club has been fined 700,000 rubles (about $9000 USD or $13000 CAD) after fans threw a couple of bananas at Medveščak’s Edwin Hedberg, who is black, at the end of a game last week. Spartak officials apologized to both Hedberg and his team, and stated that the guilty fans have been identified and banned from the arena. The case has also been handed over to the police for further investigation.
Dynamo Moscow’s game against Slovan in Bratislava on Monday was their 3000th all-time in Soviet and Russian domestic hockey; Dynamo, who were the first champions of the USSR back in the 1946 -47 season, are also the first team to reach that particular milestone. The Moscow club made it a suitably dramatic occasion too, recovering from a 2-0 second-period deficit with four unanswered goals, and then hanging on to win 4-3. Dynamo are not quite clear and dry in the race for the playoffs, and Slovan are one of the teams hot on their trail, so this was an important victory as well as a milestone.
There has been a fair amount of press given this week to the brawl in Moscow involving two teams playing in the amateur Night Hockey League; the fracas led to a record 802 penalty minutes being handed out, and the league itself has now handed down some heave supplementary discipline. Both teams, HK Molot and HK Yugan, have been suspended from competition, and two players received lifetime bans from the Night Hockey League.
And with that, it’s time to finish up with the usual look at our team of KHL players of particular interest in 2015-16:
G Juha Metsola (Amur Khabarovsk): 42 gp, 2.07 GAA, .929 sv%. Metsola is out injured at the moment, and I’m not sure when we’ll see him again. He has been named to the East team for the KHL All-Star game on Saturday, however; we shall see if he plays.
D Ziyat Paigin (HK Sochi): 37 gp, 7-15-22, +6, 8 PiM, 15:06 TOI/gm. Remember when Paigin started the season with one point in eight games, less than 10 minutes of ice time per match, and an eventual trip to the farm club? What a turnaround — this week he was named to the West All-Star team.
D Nikita Zaitsev (CSKA Moscow): 39 gp, 6-18-24, +21, 20 PiM, 20:52 TOI/gm. Zaitsev had an assist this week as CSKA clinched their playoff berth, and will join Paigin on the West All-Star squad.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): 49 gp, 17-15-32, +10, 62 PiM, 16:49 TOI/gm. Just the one goal for Prokhorkin this week, but he still has eight points in his last six contests.
F Olli Palola (Vityaz Moscow Oblast): 27 gp, 1-4-5, -8, 10 PiM, 13:42 TOI/gm. Still out injured, and, given that fact and the way his season has gone, I’ll be a bit surprised if we see him in a Vityaz sweater again.
F Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk): 48 gp, 29-33-62, +16, 0 PiM: 21:11 TOI/gm. Mozyakin didn’t play this week, although there is no report that he’ll be out long-term. As noted above, he has been named captain of the East team for the All-Star game.
That’s all the news notes for this week — thanks for reading!