Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: February 9th, 2016
A much delayed, and somewhat short, edition of the News Notes this time out, but here they are regardless! Below the jump, we’ll look at some outdoor hockey, expansion (probable) and contraction (possible), and get caught up on the KHL playoff picture… Read on!
Much of the excitement of the past week was in the city of Tver northwest of Moscow, where local side THK Tver were hosting the fourth annual Russian Classic — the VHL’s yearly outdoor game. Tver’s Khimik stadium was the venue this season, and Buran Voronezh were the visitors. Before that match, however, there was an “old-timers” game on Saturday, with Mike Keenan and Soviet hockey great Boris Mikhailov doing the coaching honours.
The “real” game happened on Sunday, when VHL-leading THK took on 5th-place Buran, and it featured a thrilling if controversial finish. After trailing since the middle of the second period, Buran appeared to have tied things up in the final minute of the third, only for the referee to say “no goal” (the puck, apparently, had not fully crossed the line). Incensed, the visitors betook themselves to their dressing room, and it was only with difficulty that they were convinced to return. And it was good for Buran that they did come back; an actual tying goal arrived with only 11 seconds left, and the team from Voronezh then wrapped up two points be winning it in overtime. The hero for Buran, with both the late equalizer and the overtime winner, was journeyman defenceman Mikhail Churyayev. Churyayev is becoming a bit of a specialist — this was his third Russian Classic, for three different teams, and he was come away a winner all three times. Another odd fact: the visiting team has won all four Russian Classics to date. The VHL subsequently fined Buran for their third-period walkout.
Sunday’s game, however, was not the end of the Russian Classic festivities! On Tuesday, the stadium hosted an exhibition match between a Tver squad and the KHL’s CSKA Moscow. A number of capital-area KHLers showed up to reinforce the Tverians, as did local boy Ilya Kovalchuk, who dropped in from SKA St. Petersburg. As for CSKA, General Manager Sergei Fedorov donned the skates again at 46 years old, and scored twice. Honours went to the locals in this one; Kovalchuk’s late goal tied it up at three apiece, and the Tver team, playing under their old Soviet name as SKA MVO Kalinin, won it 4-3 in the shootout. The game was certainly picturesque (see photo above) — played in a moderately heavy snowstorm, with both teams in 1960s-era “retro” uniforms.
The match was held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a previous exhibition ice hockey game at the Khimik Stadium. On that occasion, in January of 1966, CSKA hosted a visit from the Sherbrooke Castors, Allan Cup winners (i.e. Canadian amateur hockey champions) for that season. Anatoly Tarasov’s Red Army team was by that time well beyond the level of even the best Canadian Senior hockey teams, and the Castors went down to defeat by a score of 15-4.
Meanwhile, in the KHL, there was more exciting expansion news this week. While it would appear that the Swedish and British bids are medium-term projects at this point, and unlikely to bear fruit in time for the 2016-17 season, the China and Estonia projects look like they’re still on course. There was some suggestion this past week that the Chinese team is already to the stage of looking for personnel; Mike Keenan has been rumoured for the head coaching job (thanks to vorky for that tip). Newly-created HC Ilves Tallinn have received the official backing of the Eesti Jäähoki Liit (the Estonian Ice Hockey Federation). So, all systems go with those two teams, as far as we can tell, although work obviously remains to be done in both cases.
But the big news came from Mytishchi, where we have some indication that the return of Atlant Moscow Oblast to the KHL roster of teams may not be too far away. You may recall that Atlant folded at the end of last season due to financial issues, although their junior team continued to play in the MHL (the youngsters are now affiliated with KHL club Vityaz Moscow Oblast). This week, former Atlant netminder Sergei Borisov hinted that the club might be returning, and he was backed up in this by Roman Teryushkov, Sports Minister of the Moscow region. There are still many questions to be answered here (e.g. if all of the funding is to be private, where exactly will it come from?), and regional Ice Hockey Federation head Valery Kamensky said that he’s heard nothing of the plans, but I think this qualifies as good news nonetheless.
On the flipside of things, there has also been some serious talk this week about some KHL teams that may be in trouble with regards to their continued participation in the league. Alarm bells regarding financial difficulties have been ringing at Vityaz Moscow Oblast, although the club has denied that any firm decision has been made for 2016-17. Also issuing denials were the folks at Metallurg Novokuznetsk, in response to reports that their main corporate sponsor EVRAZ was calling an end to its financing of the team. So, obviously absolutely nothing confirmed with either of those situations, but they are very definitely worthy of close watching.
There have also be rumblings around one of the KHL’s giants, Dynamo Moscow, this season — talk of something wrong inside the organization, players not getting paid on time, and so on. Again, we lack any concrete information here, but it was interesting that former league president Alexander Medvedev addressed the situation directly in an interview on Tuesday, urging people not to assume that the club is in any danger. However, like the Vityaz and Metallurg Novokuzetsk situations, it bears keeping an eye on; we should recall that Dynamo ran into difficulties a few years ago, and were saved by merger with fellow KHL side HK MVD.
Whatever difficulties Dynamo Moscow are experiencing, they don’t seem to have bothered goalie Alexander Yeryomenko much. The 35-year-old netminder, who has struggled with injury this year but still posted an excellent .934 save percentage in 21 games, has reportedly agreed to a one-year extension on his contract (he was set to become a free agent after this season). Yeryomenko, incidentally, was the starting goalie for the Tver team in the aforementioned game against CSKA this week.
Also extending his contract this week was Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod head coach Pēteris Skudra, who is currently finishing up his third year in charge of the team. Skudra’s new deal is for two years, with an option for a third.
To on-ice KHL action! Slovan Bratislava went into their game against already-eliminated Dinamo Riga on Monday needing only a point to clinch a playoff spot. Despite blowing a 2-0 lead, the Slovakian team got the job done, taking the game 3-2 in overtime, and with that the West Conference playoff race is done; all spots are spoken for. Slovan, for their troubles, are guaranteed a first-round matchup with regular season KHL champions CSKA Moscow. The other six post-season teams from the West will be: Jokerit Helsinki, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, HK Sochi, Dynamo Moscow, SKA St. Petersburg, and Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. We still await the final placements within that group that will determine who meets whom in the playoffs’ opening round.
In the East, meanwhile, there are still two spots up for grabs, with three teams eyeing them avidly. Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg should snag one of those places, as they need only a point from their remaining two games, at home to Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk and Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Barys Astana and Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, on the other hand, are tied in points, and each also has two games left. Barys have to go on the road, to Ak Bars Kazan and conference-leading Avangard Omsk, so theirs is not an easy task, even though they do hold the tie-breaker should it become necessary. Neftekhimik, meanwhile, will face Lada in Tolyatti before returning home to close out the regular season against Salavat Yulaev Ufa. The six already-clinched teams in the East are: Avangard Omsk, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Sibir Novosibirsk, Salavat Yulaev Ufa, Admiral Vladivostok, and Ak Bars Kazan.
Those final games in the KHL will be played on the 16th and 18th of this month; the KHL is currently on a short international break to allow the Russian national team to play a couple of games against the Czech Republic. You can see the roster for those games here (in Russian, as Google Translate does horrible things to names); it will be a young crew this time, with 32-year-old Alexander Semin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk) the only player over the age of 24. Noteworthy among the inclusions: HK Sochi defenceman Ziyat Paigin, whom we’ve been tracking here at the blog this season. The games against the Czech Republic will take place on the 11th and 13th of the month.
The Women’s Hockey League is also on break at the moment, with play scheduled to resume on the 17th. In the meantime, the Russian women’s national team is off to a four-nations tournament in Sweden (Finland and Germany will join Russia and the host Swedes), with games to played from the 12th to the 14th of this month. The Russian roster is here. Of note for this tournament, five players (goalie Valeriya Tarakanova, defenders Yekaterina Lobova and Nina Pirogova, and forwards Fanuza Kadirova and Yekaterina Likachyova) who played on the Under-18 championships have been called up to the senior squad for this tournament.
Still with international hockey: the Russian Hockey Federation has announced that junior national team coach Valery Bragin will continue in that role until at least 2018. That’s probably a good call; Bragin has led the team into four World Juniors tournaments, and they have yet to finish worse than second under his command.
Since this edition of the news notes is fairly late at this point, we’ll wrap things up here by looking in on how our team of particularly interesting players fared during the run-up to the KHL’s international break.
G Juha Metsola (Amur Khabarovsk): 44 gp, 2.15 GAA, .927 sv%. Not much to see here, as Metsola played only a single game this past week.
D Ziyat Paigin (HK Sochi): 43 gp, 8-19-27, +6, 10 PiM, 15:53 TOI/gm. Another assist for Paigin in recent days, and — fresh off his first ever All Star Game — he’ll suit up for his country against the Czech Republic this coming week.
D Nikita Zaitsev (CSKA Moscow): 44 gp, 7-18-25, +24, 20 PiM, 21:00 TOI/gm. Nothing to report for Zaitsev this week.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): 53 gp, 17-17-34, +9, 89 PiM, 16:57 TOI/gm. A week very similar to Paigin’s: an assist in two games, plus an invitation to the national team.
F Olli Palola (Vityaz Moscow Oblast): 27 gp, 1-4-5, -8, 10 PiM, 13:42 TOI/gm. Still hasn’t played since early December.
F Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk): 55 gp, 32-35-67, +12, 0 PiM: 21:05 TOI/gm. Just a single goal for Mozyakin this week. He still leads the scoring race by four points, and the goals race by one. Steve Moses’ KHL record record of 36 goals in a season, however, appears to be out of reach.
And that’s it for this week! In the next set of news notes, we’ll check in on what happened in the international play, plus whatever else may crop up in the meantime. Thank you for reading!