Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: February 16th, 2016
Time for another set of news notes! This week, we’ll get caught up on international play, including a discussion of the interesting prospect I mentioned yesterday. And we’ll also check in with the last week of KHL regular season action, some upcoming big games in the women’s league, and other things of that nature! Read on…
This past week was all about the international play. The Russian women’s team, to begin with, was in action at a four-nations tournament in Sweden. The results didn’t really go the Russians’ way; they were beaten 3-1 by Finland and 3-2 by the hosts, although they did defeat Germany 2-0 in between those two games. Anna Shokhina led the way for the team with two points, both assists, while Nadezhda Morozova and Mariya Sorokina split the goaltending chores (it was the former who earned the clean sheet against Team Germany). As for the five players from the Under-18 team who earned call-ups for this tournament, they contributed a couple of points as well; defender Nina Pirogova, who still has a year of U18 eligibility remaining, scored a goal, while Fanuza Kadirova chipped in with an assist.
We stay with the women’s game for a moment. The Russian Women’s Hockey League returns to action this week, and next Sunday and Monday will feature the long-awaited second pair of games between Agidel Ufa and Tornado Moscow Oblast, at the latter’s home rink. Both teams have six matches to play, and Tornado currently lead Agidel by only two points in the standings, so these are very very important games; in fact, there is a better than good chance that they will for all intents and purposes decide the title.
Before those games occur however, Tornado have a potentially tricky pair of matchups against SKIF Nizhny Novgorod on Wednesday and Thursday. While the standings would suggest that Tornado (16-2) should handle SKIF (7-11) with ease, it is worth noting that one of the Moscow Oblast team’s two losses came against this very same SKIF squad. Agidel, too, will not want to look past Arktik Universitet Ukhta, despite the latter’s second-from-bottom place in the standings — those two teams meet in Ukhta on Wednesday and Thursday as well.
And, finally, Biryusa Krasnoyarsk will visit Dynamo St. Petersburg this week for a pair of games that should serve to settle the matter of third place in the league. Dynamo currently lead Biryusa by six points, but the Krasnoyarsk side has four games in hand.
The Russian men’s national team was also on the ice this past week, playing a pair of games against the Czech Republic. As we noted in the last batch of news notes, this a young Russian side, with only one player over 24, and they did alright for themselves. While Russia dropped the first game 3-2 in a penalty shootout, they rebounded to win the second 4-2. Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s Alexander Semin, the lone greybeard in the lot at age 31, had a goal and an assist in the second game. However, the big scoring star of the week for Russia was CSKA Moscow’s Roman Lyubimov; the 23-year-old scored twice and added an assist over the two games.
This series, you may recall, was played under a mild cloud of disgruntlement. The Swedish team, which played (and beat) Finland twice this week, had objected publicly to the fact that only two KHL teams allowed their Swedish players to take part (the two accommodating clubs, for the record, were HK Sochi and CSKA). It does not appear that much will come of it (neither Finland, with four KHLers, nor the Czechs with ten, voiced much in the way of concern), but it is a bit of an issue — the old “club versus country” dilemma with which European football fans are all too familiar. Arto Palovaara has piece up on the issue, and I invite you to give it a look.
The World Youth Olympics is currently underway in Lillehammer, Norway, and the Russian boys’ entry in the hockey competition is currently sitting at 3-0 (there is girls’ hockey at the Youth Olympics, but Russia is not represented in that event this time our). In yesterday’s little placeholder post, I mentioned young Andrei Svechnikov, who is absolutely lighting things up in Norway. He scored a goal and added two assists in the tournament-opening 4-3 win over Canada, and then had four goals and another two assists as Russia hammered the hosts 13-1 (team-mate Alexander Zhabreyev also scored a four-spot in that one). Today’s game against Finland was a tighter affair — Russia took it in a shootout after regulation play had ended 1-1, with Svechnikov scoring his team’s only goal. So that makes ten points in three World Youth Olympics outings for the young man from the Ak Bars Kazan youth system, and to make it even more impressive, games at this tournament are only 45 minutes long (it must also be said that they are played with reduced rosters, so players do get a bigger percentage of the ice time).
Not that anyone should be too surprised to see Svechnikov scoring at will. Already 6’2″ tall at only 15 years old (he turns 16 in March), he has, per Elite Prospects, scored 26 points in seven games this year for Ak Bars’ team for boys born in 2000 (rhockey indicates that it’s actually 34 points in 9 games, so EP may be slightly behind). Last year, representing the Volga Region at the Russian Federal District Championships, he scored 16-13-26 in only six games. Those are amazing numbers, but of course the hockeying gene seems to be at work in that family; Andrei’s older brother Yevgeny, currently of the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, was a first-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings this past summer, and we have talked about his very interesting story here already.
We had a couple of further developments in the KHL expansion process for next season — nothing earth-shaking this time, so we’ll deal with them in point form:
- A TASS news report indicates that the proposed Chinese entry in the league will formally apply for admission by April 1st, and, all being well, will play at the 18000 seat Mastercard Center in Beijing (h/t to vorky for that story). This is good news, although not really a surprise — all indications have been that the Chinese proposal is well ahead of the others and has been for some time.
- An intriguing note from that same article — it would appear that the KHL has had serious interest from an Italian team. It’s a possibility that has been hinted at this year, but we are still without any concrete details on it. More bulletins as events warrant.
- While it now looks unlikely that the British entry will be ready in time for 2016-17, that project does appear to be a serious possibility for subsequent years. Aivis Kalniņš has written a “Q&A” piece about it, which you can read here.
- The Sports Ministry of Moscow Oblast has now stated that the rumoured return to the KHL of the Atlant team, which withdrew after last season for financial reasons, will not occur in time for 2016-17. However, the Ministry also noted that attempts to find it a sponsor, perhaps for 2017-18, are ongoing.
Speaing of expanding, there was a very interesting bit of news today from the halls of the Russian Hockey Federation: FHR Chairman Arkady Rotenberg announced the creation, for next season, of a Russian university hockey league. At this point, there are more questions than answers about this new circuit (how will it tie in with other hockey development projects? Will it include a women’s competition?), but we will most definitely keep you posted on details as they emerge. At a guess, one of the goals will be to get Russia’s universities involved in the construction of new rinks, which has been deemed a priority by the FHR.
Turning now to the KHL, where, after today’s action, there is only one regular season game remaining for each team. As we mentioned last week, the West Conference playoff spots are all sewed up, and all that’s left is the jockeying for playoff position. We know that CSKA Moscow’s first-round opponent will be Slovan Bratislava, and that the Moscow side will have home-ice advantage for that. Jokerit Helsinki, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, and — stunningly — HK Sochi will be the other teams enjoying home-ice benefits, but whom they will face remains to be seen (the options are Dynamo Moscow, SKA St. Petersburg, and Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod).
The East Conference, meanwhile, is down to one available playoff spot. There were two when today’s play began, but Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, who needed but a point against Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk to clinch, comfortably booked their ticket with a 3-0 victory. The last spot will belong to either Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk or Barys Astana, and for the latter, the arithmetic is very stark. The team from the Kazakh capital must win in regulation against Avangard in Omsk, AND have Neftekhimik lose in regulation at home to Salavat Yulaev Ufa. That’s all eminently possible, but I think we have to say that the odds are in favour of the boys from Nizhnekamsk.
As for Avangard, they wrapped up top spot in the East today, and will host whichever of Barys or Neftekhimik secures that final spot. The other three teams with home-ice advantage in the first round are Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Sibir Novosibirsk, and Salavat Yulaev Ufa, the latter of whom have done very well to overcome an awful start to the season. Their exact opponents will be decided by Thursday’s games, but the available pool is made up of Ak Bars Kazan, Admiral Vladivostok, and Avtomobilist.
As noted, the regular season will finish up this Thursday, after which we will have first-round previews here!
Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod took advantage of their final home game of the season today to retire the number 20 worn by netminder Viktor Konovalenko from 1956 to 1972. In addition to his work for Torpedo, Konovalenko was the Soviet national team’s starting goalie for most of the 1960s, winning Olympic gold in 1964 and 1968 along with eight World Championship titles. Remarkably, he did so without ever playing for one of the big Moscow clubs; he spent his entire career with Torpedo, his hometown team (Nizhny Novgorod was then known as Gorky), and in 1960-61 he helped them become the first squad from outside the capital to finish in the top three of the Soviet Championship. Viktor Konovalenko passed away in 1996, but on hand for today’s ceremony was the man to whom he eventually handed the national team goaltending job: Vladislav Tretyak, who himself wore number 20 at least in part out of respect for his mentor and predecessor between the pipes for the USSR.
The VHL regular season wraps up on Friday, with the playoffs set to begin shortly thereafter. In next week’s news notes, we’ll look at the first-round matchups in Russia’s second-highest professional men’s league.
With only a single KHL game for each team since the last edition of news notes, we’ll pass on updating our group of players of particular interest until next week. However, I will quickly note that two of them — defenceman Ziyat Paigin of HK Sochi and Salavat Yulaev Ufa forward Nikolai Prokhorkin — played for Russia in the two games against the Czech Republic this week. Neither one, however, found the scoresheet.
And that will do for this week’s news notes. Thank you for reading, and stand by for upcoming KHL playoff previews!