Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: March 7th, 2016
This will be a record-breaking edition of the news notes, I believe; in this one, we’re going to update you on the playoffs, championships, etc. in six different leagues. Six! And that’s not counting a quick peek into the NHL, either… Read on, for those stories and others!
And so it was that when SKA St. Petersburg took the ice on Monday to face Dynamo in Moscow in the opening game of their second-round KHL playoff series, Mr. Ilya Kovalchuk was indeed in their lineup. A stunning development, given that just few short days ago Kovalchuk was under team suspension, stripped of the captaincy, and rumoured to be exploring the possibility of resuming his career in the NHL. What exactly happened, either to see him suspended in the first place or to bring about the reconciliation, we may never know, nor is it a sure thing that SKA and Kovalchuk are destined to spend much more time together once the season is done.
But whatever the case, he is back, and his team duly defeated Dynamo 3-2 to take the early lead in that series. Kovalchuk played a quiet 15:35 in his return, with no points and a plus-minus of zero. Instead, it was his team-mate Yevgeny Dadonov who played the hero, scoring SKA’s first two goals himself and then setting up Nikita Gusev for the winner with ten minutes to play. Goalie Mikko Koskinen, who had earned three straight shut-outs to close out SKA’s first-round victory over Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, kept Dynamo off the board long enough to break the KHL record for longest shutout streak in a single playoffs. He was finally beaten after 215:20 of perfect netminding, a few minutes better than the 211:41 that Michael Garnett of Traktor Chelyabinsk managed a couple of seasons ago. And so SKA now lead Dynamo one game to none, with the second contest of the series scheduled for Wednesday in Moscow.
The other West Conference series, featuring regular season champions CSKA Moscow against upstart Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, also got underway on Monday, and it right away produced a shock. Nobody probably thought very much of it when Yuri Sergiyenko gave Torpedo a 2-1 lead with five minutes left in the second period; surely, with all their talent, CSKA could find an equalizer given nearly half a game to do so. No, as it turned out, they could not. Against all odds, the scoreboard still read 2-1 when the third period came to an end, and just like that Torpedo have seized an unlikely advantage in the series. A tip of the hat to goalie Ilya Proskuryakov, who stopped 28 of 29 CSKA shots in the victory.
The two East Conference series (Avangard Omsk vs. Salavat Yulaev Ufa and Metallurg Magnitogorsk vs. Sibir Novosibirsk) get going on Tuesday, and you can read my preview of all four match-ups here.
As we noted here this past week, the Women’s Hockey League has its champion for 2015-16, and it is Tornado Moscow Oblast, who saw off a season-long challenge from Agidel Ufa to take top spot for the second year in a row. After Tornado clinched the title, and Agidel the silver medal, all that was left was to see whether Biryusa Krasnoyarsk could find two points from their last two games, against the champions, to overtake Dynamo St. Petersburg for third place.
And the team from Krasnoyarsk, Siberia’s third-largest city, did so in style, although we must concede that Tornado, with nothing left to play for, were probably taking things a bit easy. In any case, Biryusa beat the champs in regulation in both games, 4-2 and 4-3, to win their first bronze medal since 2008-09, when the club was still called Lokomotiv-Energiya Krasnoyarsk.
Agidel’s Olga Sosina won the scoring race with 58 points in 22 games, while Alevtina Shtaryova of Tornado was to the top goal-scorer, with 29 in 24 matches. In the next couple of days, we’ll have a post here summing up the Women’s Hockey League season more fully, and taking a look at how each team fared.
And this past weekend was championship weekend in the League of Women’s Hockey, the top amateur women’s competition in Russia (aka the “Amazonki Divizion”). Twenty-three teams played in the league’s inaugural 2015-16 season, divided into four regional groups, and the group winners — Forvard Kazan, Severyanka Cherepovets, Grizli Novosibirsk, and Grad-1 Moscow — came together in Moscow on Saturday to determine the national champion.
In the semi-final round, Grizli defeated Forvard 3-2, while Grad-1 got past Severyanka by a score of 4-1. That put Grad-1 and Grizli into the Final game, and the Moscow side came out on top, once again by a score of 4-1. Yelena Byalkovskaya led the way for the gold medal winners, with a penalty-shot goal and an assist in the Final. Severyanka took the bronze medal game, defeating Forvard 2-0.
The weekend’s entertainment finished on Sunday with a match between a League of Women’s Hockey All-Star squad and the Russian women’s national team. The national side, already into their preparations for the upcoming World Championship, won it 14-0, but it nonetheless appeared that a good time was had by all. In the above-mentioned upcoming post on the WHL season, we’ll talk a little bit about this first-ever national amateur women’s championship as well.
We have not talked much here at the blog about the Asia League, the Far-Eastern circuit that features one Russian entry in the form of HK Sakhalin, who play on the island of that name in the city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (the league’s other teams are based in Japan, South Korea, and China). Sakhalin, who joined the Asia League last season, finished second out of nine teams this time around behind South Korean club Anyang Halla, and thus earned a bye to Round 2 of the playoffs. That series will begin this coming Saturday, when Sakhalin play host to the Nippon Paper Cranes, from Kushiro, Japan.
We will keep you posted on Sakhalin’s progress in the weeks to come.
The KHL’s junior league, the MHL, starts the first round of its play-offs tomorrow, as 16 teams head off in search of the Kharlamov Cup. We mentioned them last week, but here again are the first-round match-ups:
- (1) Loko Yaroslavl vs. (8) Amurskie Tigry Khabarovsk
- (2) Rossiya U18 vs. (7) Krasnaya Armiya Moscow
- (3) Dynamo St. Petersburg vs. (6) MHK Spartak Moscow
- (4) Almaz Cherepovets vs. (5) SKA-1946 St. Petersburg
- (1) Omskie Yastreby Omsk vs. (8) Siberskie Snaipery Novosibirsk
- (2) Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk vs. (7) Kuznetskie Medvedi Novokuznetsk
- (3) Tolpar Ufa vs. (6) Snezhnye Barsy Astana
- (4) Chaika Nizhny Novgorod vs. (5) Reaktor Nizhnekamsk
Chaika Nizhny Novgorod are the defending champions.
And there was an extra helping of very interesting news from the MHL in the last couple of days, namely that Krylya Sovetov Moscow — the famous Soviet Wings club — will look to enter a team in the league next season. Krylya Sovetov were among the giants of hockey in the Soviet Union, winning two championships, contributing numerous players to the USSR’s national team, and regularly competing against NHL teams as part of the Super Series during the 1970s and 1980s. However, financial problems prevented them from joining the KHL when it was founded in 2008, and the club eventually dropped out of first professional hockey and then nationwide junior competitions. In recent seasons, all that has been left at Krylya Sovetov is the youth hockey school. There have been persistent rumours, however, that the club is interested in rejoining the Russian hockey elite, and indeed in entering the KHL. The news about the MHL team for 2016-17 may very reasonably be seen as a step in that direction, and it will be nice in any case to see the renowned old name back in action in a nation-wide competition.
It appears that Alexei Morozov, who played for Krylya Sovetov in his childhood and the early part of his professional career, will be in charge of the club’s MHL project.
Tuesday will be a big day in the VHL (the Russian equivalent of the AHL), where three of the first-round playoff series have gone to seven games. One of the match-ups going the distance is the one featuring top seed THK Tver against the 16th-ranked Chelmet Chelyabinsk; obviously it will be a major upset if Chelmet take the series. Also playing Game 7 on Tuesday will be defending champions Toros Neftekamsk, the three seed, against number fourteen Sputnik Nizhny Tagil, and (5) Buran Voronezh versus (12) Dynamo Balashikha.
Among the VHL first-round series that have been completed, tenth-seeded Izhstal Izhevsk pulled off the upset of number seven SKA-Neva St. Petersburg in five games, while (8) Saryarka Karaganda won the Kazakhstan derby over (9) Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk in six matches. Also advancing:
- (2) HK Ryazan over (15) Molot-Prikamye Perm in six games.
- (4) Neftyanik Almetievsk over (13) HK Sarov in four straight.
- (6) Yermak Angarsk over (11) Zauralye Kurgan in five.
Next week, we’ll update you on the second round match-ups and how they are progressing.
With 20 KHL teams now finished for the season, we have a couple of players making their to North America — or rather back to North America, in the case of Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk forward Bogdan Yakimov. Yakimov, an Edmonton Oilers prospect, began the season in the AHL with the Bakersfield Condors, but returned to his hometown on a loan deal in late December. He scored 4-2-6 in 15 games (regular season and playoffs) for Neftekhimik before they were eliminated by Avangard Omsk, then headed back to Bakersfield. Yakimov’s AHL line this season is 23 gp, 3-5-8, which includes one assist in two games since his return from Russia.
Also coming over is Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg defenceman Nikita Tryamkin, who has signed an entry-level deal with the Vancouver Canucks (Tryamkin was taken by Vancouver in the sixth round of the 2014 NHL draft). The massive 21-year-old (6’7″, 255 lbs) has played 203 games in all competitions over four seasons in Yekaterinburg, scoring nine goals and adding 20 assists over that span. His contract with Vancouver reportedly includes an out-clause that will allow him to return to the KHL if the Canucks try to send him to their AHL farm team.
Speaking of young Russian players in North America, it was an impressive week for Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Nikita Soshnikov. The Leafs will almost certainly miss the playoffs in 2015-16, but the 22-year-old from Nizhny Tagil, who came up through the youth ranks at Atlant Moscow Oblast, is giving the fans hopes of a brighter future. Soshnikov scored his first NHL goal this last week on as wicked a wrist-shot as you will ever hope to see (see clip above), and then, as if to prove it was no fluke, scored his second a couple of days later in almost identical fashion. Since being called up from the AHL, he now has two goals and an assist in five games for Toronto, which is not a bad way to start one’s NHL career.
Czech forward Jiří Novotný will apparently not be returning to Lokomotiv Yaroslavl next season. The 32-year-old had 12 points in 38 games this season, his second in Yaroslavl previous KHL stints with Atlant, Barys, and Lev Prague. Novotný also has NHL experience with the Sabres, Capitals, and Blue Jackets.
Finally, there have also been a couple of front-office changes involving KHL teams whose seasons are over. Briefly:
- Dinamo Riga General Manager Normunds Sējējs has had his contract extended, reportedly for a year. Sējējs also served as Dinamo’s head coach this season after the January firing of Kari Heikkilä, but that was purely on an interim basis, and he will not continue in that position.
- General Manager Alexei Koznev has been promoted to Acting Director of Severstal Cherepovets, replacing Nikolai Pyatunin in that position after Severstal suffered through a very disappointing season.
- Severstal Head Coach Dmitry Yushkevich is rumoured to be headed for the exit as well, although the team has said he will remain on the job until the end of April at least.
We will close, as usual, with our update on the six players we have been tracking closely here at the blog all season. And we find three of them still going as the KHL playoffs head into their second round!
G Juha Metsola (Amur Khabarovsk): 44 gp, 2.15 GAA, .927 sv%. Missed playoffs, season over.
D Ziyat Paigin (HK Sochi): Regular Season — 45 gp, 9-19-28, +5, 10 PiM, 16:00 TOI/gm. Playoffs — 4 gp, 0-0-0, -3, o PiM, 21:46 TOI/gm. Eliminated from playoffs, season over.
D Nikita Zaitsev (CSKA Moscow): Regular Season — 46 gp, 8-18-26, +21, 20 PiM, 21:01 TOI/gm. Playoffs — 5 gp, 1-0-1, +2, 0 PiM, 21:17 TOI/gm. CSKA and Zaitsev have played only one game, today’s loss to Torpedo, so not much to update here.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): Regular Season — 55 gp, 19-17-36, +10, 91 PiM, 17:08 TOI/gm. Playoffs — 7 gp, 1-1-2, -3, 6 PiM, 18:17 TOI/gm. No points in his last five games, and -5 over his last three. Those are alarming numbers at this stage of the season.
F Olli Palola (Vityaz Moscow Oblast): 27 gp, 1-4-5, -8, 10 PiM, 13:42 TOI/gm. Missed playoffs, season over.
F Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk): Regular Season — 57 gp, 32-35-67, +11, 0 PiM: 21:01 TOI/gm. Playoffs — 6 gp, 1-3-4, +2, 0 PiM, 20:41 TOI/gm. Three points in his last two games, not to mention +2 in that span as well, suggests that Mozyakin may be waking from a two-month slump. Woe betide Metallurg’s opponents if this is indeed the case!
And that’s all for this set of news notes. We’ll be back with more updates early next week, and in the meantime there will be other things showing up here, so please do check back. Thank you for reading!