Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: January 26th, 2016
Another week, and we have another batch of interesting news stories from the world of Russian hockey! This time around, we’ll look at this past weekend’s KHL All-Star Game (and reveal what is going on in the video clip above), check in with the playoff races in various leagues, and discuss a spectacular game by Olga Sosina in the Women’s Hockey League. Oh, and there is expansion news. BIG expansion news… Read on!
It was KHL All-Star weekend, and Saturday saw the league’s best assembled in Moscow for those festivities. The KHL mid-season classic always produces its share of highly amusing shenanigans, and this year was no exception, particularly when it came to the penalty shot contest during the skills competition. There, Dmitri Kagarlitsky got some supernatural help in beating Juha Metsola. Anatoly Golyshev channeled Robin Hood. Daniil Apalkov channeled Leonardo Dicaprio, and won an Oscar doing it. However, the most popular trick of the competition turned out to be Linus Omark’s flaming stick routine, even if he didn’t actually score:
The actual game turned out to be the sort of grinding, defensive-minded, slugfest that is the norm for all-star games everywhere; the West won it, 28-23. Matt Ellison of Dinamo Minsk led the way for the victorious team, scoring eight times. Sergei Mozyakin responded with six of the East Conference’s tallies.
However, it was the goal Mozyakin didn’t score that turned out to be one of the high points of the evening. With just 90 seconds remaining, the Metallurg Magnitogorsk sniper was awarded a penalty shot, prompting the West team to make a goaltending change. Out came Ilya Sorokin, and in went CSKA’s Alexander Radulov — a fine hockey player, but not at all a goalie. Inexperienced he may be as a netminder, but his deft poke-check got the better of Mozyakin this time, and you can watch the replay of that at the top of this post.
For all its fun, the All-Star game was somewhat overshadowed by the news delivered in the midst of it by KHL President Dmitry Chernyshenko: that the league is considering applications from FOUR different possible sites for expansion next season. China (Beijing or Shanghai) is on that list, as is Estonia (Tallinn); both of those have been in the news in recent weeks, and did not come as a surprise. Sweden was also mentioned — more surprising, but there had been a hint or two in that direction earlier in the 2015-16 campaign.
It was the fourth name on the list of candidates that was particularly intriguing — per Chernyshenko, the KHL is looking to put a team in the United Kingdom. As with the Swedish candidate, the exact city remains a question; London is the obvious choice, and IIHF President Rene Fasel said recently that he would like to see KHL teams there and in Paris, but it’s worth noting that there is also an excellent hockey arena in Manchester. We shall see, but it is surely no coincidence that this week also saw a partnership announced between the KHL and the UK-based Workforce Bank, “to expand KHL business operations and bring more training and exhibition games to United Kingdom.”
We are, of course, 100 miles from being able to inscribe any of those four teams on the KHL roster for next season. The Chinese project seems to be furthest ahead, although there are still many details to be worked out. Estonia’s prospective entry, too, is moving along steadily by all accounts. As for Sweden, all indications are that this will be a brand-new team, rather than an established outfit, and that comes with its own set of issues. And, as noted, we still wait to hear more about the proposed British team. Whatever happens next, though, it is officially exciting times for KHL expansion-watchers!
Speaking of business ventures, Workforce wasn’t the only new company partnering up with the KHL this week; the league has announced multi-year sponsorship deals with both MasterCard and Coca-Cola. One of the reasons that Chernyshenko replaced Alexander Medvedev as league president was the former’s ability to drum up this sort of business, so all-in-all it has been a pretty good week for him.
Back on the ice, meanwhile, the end of the KHL regular season is only three weeks away, and we are now starting to get some clarity on what the playoffs are going to look like. Let’s deal with each conference in turn, and we will start the West:
- CSKA Moscow, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, and Jokerit Helsinki have clinched their spots. CSKA and Lokomotiv will battle it out for top spot in the conference, and likely in the league overall.
- In the “probably safe” category are SKA St. Petersburg, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, the surprising HK Sochi, and Dynamo Moscow.
That’s three teams clinched, and four more likely, leaving one spot open for debate. Right now, that belongs to Slovan Bratislava — a remarkable achievement, given how close the Slovak team came to missing out on the season altogether. Slovan, with seven matches to play, are five points clear of Medveščak Zagreb and have a game in hand. The two met this past week, in Bratislava, and victory went to Slovan by a 3-2 score thanks to Václav Nedorost’s last-minute goal
- The odds are against Medveščak, but they still have both time and opportunity to make a fight of it. So do Dinamo Minsk (eight points back of Slovan with eight to play) and maybe even Spartak Moscow (nine points adrift with seven games to go). However, all three of those teams need to get going, and fast.
- While the math hasn’t quite given up on them yet, Dinamo Riga (14 points from the playoffs with eight games left) are all but eliminated. Officially out of the post-season, meanwhile, are Vityaz Moscow Oblast and Severstal Cherepovets.
Over to the East Conference:
- Only one club has clinched its post-season ticket, and it’s Avangard Omsk, who, if they can hold their course, should make off with the conference title as well.
- Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Sibir Novosibirsk, Admiral Vladivostok (another team enjoying a surprisingly strong season), and Salavat Yulaev Ufa are probably going to be ok.
- Ak Bars Kazan are sort of caught in the middle; eight points ahead of ninth place should be a comfy margin with seven games left, but it’s been an unsteady season for the usually powerful Tatar team. They should get in, but could also fall back amongst the teams behind them if things don’t go their way.
- That leaves two spots up for grabs, and it looks right now like there are three contenders. Barys Astana (three points ahead of ninth with six to play) and Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg (two up with seven left) are currently occupying seventh and eighth, but Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk are still lurking with seven games of their own still to go. Any two of those three teams could easily make it in.
- Traktor Chelyabinsk have won four in a row, but still sit in tenth, eight points of back of that last playoff spot with seven games left. There’s a chance, but it may be too late for them now.
- Also likely done are Lada Tolyatti, Amur Khabarovsk, and Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk.
- Last in the conference, last in the league, and now mathematically eliminated from playoff contention are Metallurg Novokuznetsk.
So that’s how things stand at the moment. As a reminder, however, the KHL awards three points for a win, so the situation can change in a hurry… We’ll update again next week!
In the Women’s Hockey League, meanwhile, the inimitable Olga Sosina set a record by scoring nine points (three goals, six assists) in Agidel Ufa’s 15-3 hammering of SK Sverdlovsk Oblast. The outburst gives Sosina a ten-point lead in the league points race, and puts Agidel four points ahead of Tornado Moscow Oblast in the chase for the title.
However, Tornado have two games in hand, and will make those up this coming week against second-from-bottom Arktik-Universitet Ukhta. Six points for the Moscow region team seem very likely, which would put them back on top of the standings. And Anna Shokhina, currently second in the scoring charts, will have a chance to make up some ground on Sosina as well.
Also of note in the women’s league this week: 15-year-old goalie Diana Farkhutdinova recorded her first professional shutout, as SKIF Nizhny Novgorod surprised Dynamo St. Petersburg 5-0. She fully earned it, too, stopping 36 shots in the victory.
While we’re at it, let’s check in with the situations in a couple of Russia’s other leagues as their regular seasons head into the home stretch. In the VHL, the professional league just below the KHL, three of the sixteen playoff spots are officially spoken-for; THK Tver, HK Ryazan, and — just today — Buran Voronezh have all clinched. In the junior MHL, meanwhile, Loko Yaroslavl (junior squad of the KHL’s Lokomotiv, of course) are the only team to have punched their ticket so far.
With the all-star break and all, it was a bit of a short week for some KHL teams. However, we will nonetheless check in as usual with the six players we’ve been paying close attention to this season:
G Juha Metsola (Amur Khabarovsk): 42 gp, 2.07 GAA, .929 sv%. No action for Metsola beyond his All-Star Game appearance this week (and let’s face it, ASGs are not kind to goalies).
D Ziyat Paigin (HK Sochi): 38 gp, 7-15-22, +6, 8 PiM, 15:13 TOI/gm. Paigin, too, was at the ASG — remarkably given where he was to start the season — and recorded three assists for the West.
D Nikita Zaitsev (CSKA Moscow): 41 gp, 6-18-24, +21, 20 PiM, 20:55 TOI/gm. Lots of reports this week about Zaitsev possibly signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs once the season is over. He had one assist at the All-Star festivities.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): 50 gp, 17-15-32, +7, 62 PiM, 16:47 TOI/gm. Played one “real” game this week, and it was a rough one; Prokhorkin went -3 as Salavat Yulaev rather surprisingly lost 5-3 to Ugra.
F Olli Palola (Vityaz Moscow Oblast): 27 gp, 1-4-5, -8, 10 PiM, 13:42 TOI/gm. We’ve said it before, but this nightmarish season can’t end fast enough for Palola.
F Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk): 50 gp, 29-35-64, +16, 0 PiM: 21:07 TOI/gm. Had two assists in two games for Metallurg, to go along with his six goals and two helpers at the ASG. Weirdly, he hasn’t scored a KHL goal since December 24th, although he still leads the league in both points and goals.
That’s it for this time — thank you for reading!