Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: March 15th, 2016
Time for another set of news notes, and this week we’ll check in with any number of playoffs in various leagues, along with some player- and coach-related shuffling among some teams whose seasons are over. There are other bits and pieces as well, so read on!
On the KHL playoff scene, we have our first qualifier for the Conference Finals! Here’s a look at all four second-round series (conference seedings in brackets):
- (1) CSKA Moscow defeat (7) Torpedo Nizhny Novogorod 4 games to 1. CSKA are into the last four, having recovered nicely from Torpedo’s shock win in Game 1 of the series.
- (6) SKA St. Petersburg lead (5) Dynamo Moscow 3 games to 2. Things looked dire for SKA after a miserable 4-0 Game 3 loss put them 2-1 down in the series. No problem — they’ve outscored Dynamo 8-1 since then.
- (4) Salavat Yulaev Ufa lead (1) Avangard Omsk 3 games to 1. It’s been a surprisingly tepid display so far by Avangard, the East’s regular season champions. Full credit to Salavat Yulaev, though, as they are full value for their series lead.
- (2) Metallurg Magnitogorsk lead (3) Sibir Novosibirsk 3 games to 1. We discussed this one at length yesterday, and there’s further news to come (see below). Metallurg will have an excellent chance to close things out on Wednesday.
It was mentioned as a possibility in yesterday’s post, but it is now official: Sibir goalie Alexander Salák has been suspended for five games for his actions in the immediate aftermath of that disputed goal by Sergei Mozyakin. And we now have video showing exactly why the KHL has come down on Salák; he managed to clobber one of the officials with his stick while protesting. And while it was accidental, I don’t think anyone can seriously object to the suspension, given that the goalie was heaping verbal abuse on the luckless referee when it happened. In any case, Nikita Bespalov will get the job of trying to keep Sibir’s season going, with Alexei Krasikov probably getting the call from junior team Siberskie Snaipery Novosibirsk to back him up.
It is a sad ending to what began as a pretty good week for Salák and Sibir, as the club announced on Saturday that they have signed the 29-year-old Czech netminder to a two-year contract extension. The move came after rumours that Salák would be heading to Barys Astana in the off-season. It also came after he had declared that he no longer wished to play in the KHL at all — this in the wake of Sibir’s monumental 12-hour return trip from Vladivostok during Round 1 of the playoffs. Salák has long been known as someone who has a little trouble keeping his temper, but that aside, he’s a fine goalie; his sv% of .938 was third-highest in the KHL this past season.
Salák was not the only East Conference goalie re-signing with his current club this week. Admiral Vladivostok, Sibir’s victims in the first round of the playoffs, have got Ivan Nalimov’s name on a two-year extension. Nalimov had a fairly mediocre 2015-16, with a .908 sv% in 42 games, but he’s very young for a goalie — still only 21 — and Admiral clearly see him as a long-term project. The Russian Hockey Federation may think likewise; Nalimov was called up this week to a preliminary camp for the Russia’s World Championship team. It’s extremely unlikely that he will make the final roster, but still not a bad sign for a young netminder.
The Ilya Kovalchuk situation at SKA St. Petersburg has simmered down somewhat since the now-former captain of the team returned to the lineup for Round 2 against Dynamo Moscow. However, “Kovi” failed to put up any points in the first three games of the series, and went -3 to boot, and so has spent the last two contests in the press box. The fact that SKA are 6-0 without Kovalchuk, and 1-3 with him in the lineup, will not help change the minds of those who feel that he is washed up, a bad egg, and so on and so forth… And we are once again back to wondering if we have seen the last of him in an SKA St. Petersburg sweater.
Coaching news: by the lofty standards that Ak Bars Kazan have set for themselves in the KHL era, it was a dreadful season. Fifth place in the East Conference and a first-round exit at the hands of arch-rivals Salavat Yulaev Ufa will likely send the Tatar team’s fans into the off-season in some disgruntlement. However, it does not appear that head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov will pay for it all with his job; the team announced this week that he will be sticking around. The Ak Bars front office did say, however, that Bilyaletdinov will likely have some new assistants when pre-season training begins, and it is now being reported that one of those will be Dmitry Yushkevich, late of the head coaching position at Severstal Cherepovets. The speculation is that Yushkevich will work with Ak Bars’ defencemen.
Jokerit Helsinki have seen a couple of departures since their season ended in the first round of the playoffs. Forward Jere Sallinen, first of all, has signed a one-year entry-level deal with the Edmonton Oilers. Sallinen scored 8-11-19 in 50 games for Jokerit in 2015-16’s regular season, his second KHL campaign in the Finnish capital. He also racked up 79 penalty minutes, which put him in the top 20 in the league in that category.
And, judging from his Twitter account, forward Brandon Kozun will not be returning to Jokerit for 2016-17. Kozun led the team in points this season, scoring 15-34-49 in 58 games, and GM Jari Kurri will have his work cut out replacing him, if indeed he goes. No word yet on whither Kozun might be bound.
Traktor Chelyabinsk, who missed the playoffs this season, have taken the “acting” tag off of head coach Anvar Gatiyatulin. Gatiyatulin took over on an interim basis when Andrei Nikolishin was fired in November, and while he could not rescue the team’s season, he has clearly done well enough to earn a shot at guiding Traktor through a full campaign (his new contract is actually for two years).
Per the linked article, Traktor’s 2015-16 captain Deron Quint will not be back with the team next year. Quint, who turned 40 this week, is one of the last active players to have taken to the ice for the old Winnipeg Jets prior to their move to Phoenix. In all, Quint played nearly 500 NHL games before heading overseas, where he played another 400 over seven seasons in the KHL. There have been recent reports that Quint has been looking into Russian citizenship, so he may very well reappear somewhere in the KHL either as a player or a coach.
The Russian women’s national team is in Novogorsk, near Moscow, getting ready for the upcoming IIHF Women’s World Championship. That tournament will begin on March 28th (the Russians take on Finland on opening day) in Kamloops, British Columbia. Head Coach Mikhail Chekanov has 32 players to choose from (the complete list is here), and we should know the final roster before the team flies to Canada on March 20th.
Not on the training camp roster, interestingly enough, is goalie Valeriya Tarakanova, who won the MVP award at the recent World Under-18 Championship. Tarakanova did make the World Championship team last season, but the return from injury of veteran Anna Prugova seems to have pushed her aside for this year’s tournament. We have certainly not heard the last of Tarakanova at the national team level, however.
A spot of news from the NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins forward Yevgeny Malkin is out with an “upper body” injury, and is expected to miss the next six to eight weeks. Not good news for the Penguins, who are scrabbling for one of the last playoff spots this season. The timeline for Malkin’s return also runs perilously close to the May 6th opening of this year’s men’s World Championship, which Russia is hosting. Should the Penguins miss the playoffs or be eliminated in the first round, Malkin would be available for that tournament… if he’s healthy enough.
Back to playoff updates, as we take a look at some of the other leagues in Russia! Round 2 is underway in the second-tier professional VHL — here are the match-ups, and how they stand so far (overall seedings in brackets):
- (1) THK Tver lead (12) Dynamo Balashikha 2 games to 0.
- (2) HK Ryazan trail (10) Izhstal Izhevsk 2 games to 0.
- (3) Toros Neftekamsk tied with (8) Saryarka Karaganda at 1 game each.
- (4) Neftyanik Almetyevsk tied with (6) Yermak Angarsk at 1 game each.
And in the junior MHL, Round 1 of the playoffs is nearly over, with only two of the eight best-of-five series still to be decided. Here’s what has happened so far (conference seedings in brackets):
- (1) Loko Yaroslavl defeated (8) Amurskie Tigry Khabarovsk 3 games to 0.
- (2) Team Russia U18 lost to (7) Krasnaya Armiya Moscow 3 games to 0.
- (3) Dynamo St. Petersburg tied with (6) MHK Spartak Moscow at 2 games each.
- (4) Almaz Cherepovets defeated (5) SKA-1946 St. Petersburg 3 games to 0.
- (1) Omskie Yastreby (Omsk) lost to (8) Siberskie Snaipery Novosibirsk 3 games to 1.
- (2) Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk defeated (7) Kuznetskie Medvedi (Novokuznetsk) 3 games to 1.
- (3) Tolpar Ufa lost to (6) Snezhnye Barsy Astana 3 games to 0.
- (4) Chaika Nizhny Novgorod tied with (5) Reaktor Nizhnekamsk at 2 games each.
Those deciding Game 5s will be played on Wednesday (Dynamo vs. Spartak) and Thursday (Chaika vs. Reaktor).
Of note there are a couple of fairly thunderous upsets in the first round. The Russian Under-18 national team, which had a fine debut season in the MHL, was unceremoniously dumped out of the playoffs by CSKA Moscow’s junior squad, Krasnaya Armiya. It may be something of a blessing in disguise for the U18s, however, as it will provide them with some extra preparation time for the World Under-18 Championship, set to begin in April in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
More stunning even than that upset, however, was Omskie Yastreby’s defeat by Siberskie Snaipery, given that there was a 24-point gap between the two in the standings this year. Siberskie Snaipery, junior squad of Sibir Novosibirsk will next face Stalnye Lisy, who happen to be the the youngsters’ team for… Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Given that the two parent clubs are currently locked in controversy in the KHL playoffs, that’s just good fun!
Finally, we noted last week that the Asia League’s lone Russian entry, HK Sakhalin, was about to swing into playoff action. And swing they did, eliminating Japanese side Nippon Paper Cranes in three games by a total score of 14-2. That puts Sakhalin into the championship final, where they will meet South Korean team Anyang Halla.
For Sakhalin, in their second Asia League season, it will a first trip to the final. Halla, meanwhile, are one of the league’s original teams, and won the title in 2010 and 2011 (2011’s championship was shared with the Tohoku Free Blades, after the latter’s home city was devastated by the infamous earthquake). 2016 will be first year since 2010 that a Japanese team does not win at least a share of the championship. The 2016 championship final opens in Anyang on March 26th.
We will close as usual with the update on our team of six KHL players whom we’ve been following with particular interest this season:
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. Paigin, like the above-mentioned Nalimov, has been invited to the World Championship preliminary camp.
D Nikita Zaitsev (CSKA Moscow): Regular Season — 46 gp, 8-18-26, +21, 20 PiM, 21:01 TOI/gm. Playoffs — 9 gp, 1-3-4, +5, 8 PiM, 21:24 TOI/gm. Zaitsev played a large role in CSKA’s defeat of Torpedo, scoring three assists and going +3 in his team’s four victories.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): Regular Season — 55 gp, 19-17-36, +10, 91 PiM, 17:08 TOI/gm. Playoffs — 11 gp, 1-3-4, -2, 6 PiM, 18:21 TOI/gm. Prokhorkin broke a five-game pointless streak with a couple of assists this time around.
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 — 10 gp, 4-7-11, +5, 0 PiM, 20:24 TOI/gm. He’s back, folks — two goals and five assists in four games this week should set alarm bells ringing among Metallurg’s rivals in these playoffs. Mozyakin is currently fourth in points among all players this post-season.
And that will do for this edition of news notes! We’ll be back next Monday or so to update all the playoff happenings. In the meantime, there will be wrap-up of the Women’s Hockey League season that I promised last week — it’s nearly done, so do check back. Thank you for reading!