Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: March 22nd, 2016
All kinds of things in this week’s news notes, from playoff happenings in several different leagues, to major developments in boardrooms (hello, China!), to a fast-upcoming World Championship tournament, and more. However, we do begin this one with some terribly sad news from youth hockey in Moscow. Read on…
It was less than two months ago that we were reporting on the accidental death of Novokuznetsk youth hockey player Alexander Orekhov, who died after being hit in the neck by the puck during a game. Sadly, and almost unbelievably, a very similar tragedy took place this past week in Moscow. On March 18th, eight-year-old Savely Manko, a player for a children’s team at the Grad Hockey Club, was fatally struck in the neck by a wayward shot while collecting the pucks after training. Paramedics’ efforts to revive the boy failed, and he passed away at the arena. We extend all sympathies and condolences to Savely’s family, friends, and team-mates.
Speaking of the earlier Orekhov tragedy, his team, the Metallurg Novokuznetsk youth team for kids born in 1999, advanced to the national championship in that age group this week by winning a tournament at their home rink. As you can imagine, their departed friend was much on the players’ minds; Orekhov was commemorated with a uniform patch, and the team brought his sweater to the trophy presentation ceremony. Metallurg have released a short video about the tournament (in Russian):
The national championship will take place in Berdsk from the 4th to 10th of April.
To happier matters — the KHL’s West Conference Final got underway today in Moscow, and it was home team CSKA getting their collective nose out in front of SKA St. Petersburg. Roman Lyubimov and Stéphane Da Costa scored in the opening 40 minutes for the Moscow side before Dmitry Kugryshev added an empty-netter at the end. Ilya Sorokin, meanwhile, made 27 saves, including one on a penalty shot by Yevgeny Dadonov, and so 3-0 was the final margin. CSKA take a 1-0 lead in the series, but it should be noted that they won the opener between these two teams last season as well, and by an identical score. That was the series that saw SKA fall behind by three games before winning the next four in a row.
The East Conference gets underway on Wednesday, when Salavat Yulaev Ufa travel to Magnitogorsk to take on that city’s Metallurg. CSKA and SKA will be back at it on Thursday.
There was big KHL news off the ice, too, on the expansion front; the league’s proposed Chinese entry has a name, and it may have a coach as well. The KHL has signed a letter of intent with newly-created Red Star Kunlun Beijing to have them join the league for 2016-17. “Kunlun,” incidentally, refers either to the mountain range by that name in northwestern China, or to a particular mountain that features in Chinese mythology.
Even though the team’s accession to the KHL is still contingent on a vote from the KHL Board of Directors, probably to take place sometime in April, it looks very much like that is merely a formality at this point. And Red Star Kunlun have already begun building the hockey personnel side of the operation. As Aivis Kalniņš mentioned on Twitter last month, Mike Keenan — the only man to have won both a Stanley Cup and a Gagarin Cup as coach — is among the front-runners for the head coaching job, and further reports indicate that a formal offer has been made to him.
The KHL’s Board of Directors did have a meeting on Monday, and some very interesting developments came out of it quite apart from the issue of expansion to China. To begin with, it appears that 2016 will see the last edition of the KHL’s annual entry draft. While the KHL draft has been a fascinating event over the years, the league has struggled to find a format for it that works well. As for what will replace the draft when May of 2017 rolls around, Vyacheslav Fetisov is to head up a committee charged with solving just that problem.
Secondly, the KHL has formally decided to go ahead with the creation of the long-rumoured farm league, apparently to be called the “Premier League” (Хоккейная Премьер-лига). If earlier reports hold true, participation in this league will be optional, at least at first, for KHL teams. How it will all work remains to be seen, but we will keep you posted on developments as they occur.
So what does this mean for the VHL, which currently occupies the “top farm league” role in Russia? On that question too, we wait. However, it is surely no coincidence that the Russian Hockey Federation announced on Tuesday that it has reached an agreement to take over administration of the VHL championship for the next three seasons (the league had been part of the KHL set-up to this point). Once again, we will note any further news on this front as we get it!
Whatever happens with the VHL in the future, it is enjoying a fascinating set of playoff series in 2015-16. The final four teams are now set, and the semifinal matchups look like this (seedings in brackets):
- (1) THK Tver vs. (10) Izhstal Izhevsk
- (4) Neftyanik Almetyevsk vs. (8) Saryarka Karaganda
The semi-final round begins on March 28th.
The previous round featured two major upsets, as tenth-seeded Izhstal needed only five games to eliminate second seed HK Ryazan, while Saryarka Karaganda kept Kazakhstan’s representation in the post-season alive by eliminating the defending champions, third-seeded Toros Neftekamsk.
Regular-season champions THK Tver also had a noteworthy quarterfinal series against Dynamo Balashikha, particularly the second game of it. That one was not settled until Nikita Bondarev scored for THK 23 seconds into the fourth overtime, and the total time of 120:23 made it the longest game in the history of Russian hockey (it beat a 2010 VHL encounter between Izhstal Izhevsk and Yuzhny Ural Orsk which went 119:10). As an odd little historical note, the KHL has actually had a longer game than the THK-Dynamo marathon, but it did not feature any teams from Russia; during the 2014 playoffs, Lev Prague and Donbass Donetsk played for 126:14.
The next couple of weeks will see a fair bit of coverage of women’s hockey here at the blog; we are now less than a week away from the March 28th opening of the Women’s World Championship in Canada. It is an even more important competition this time around, as the top five nations in the IIHF’s world rankings when the 2016 tournament is over will qualify automatically for the 2018 Olympics in South Korea (the hosts automatically get in, and the other two spots will be determined by qualification tournaments in 2017). Russia is currently ranked fourth in the world in women’s hockey, behind the U.S., Canada, and Finland, and will look to at least maintain that spot and thus earn a ticket to Pyeongchang.
Team Russia has now arrived in British Columbia, where the championship is to be held, and you can see the final roster here. Of note is the absence of Tornado Moscow Oblast forward Anna Shokhina, who will stay home due to injury — she will be very much missed when the championship begins. Between now and the start of the tournament, we will have a post here taking a closer look at the roster, and the much-promised recap of the Women’s Hockey League is nearly done as well.
The Russian team will begin the World Championship with an exhibition game against Switzerland on the 26th. Tournament play commences on the 28th, when Russia faces Finland.
In the junior MHL, meanwhile, the second round of the playoffs has begun. Here’s a quick update and how things stand so far in the four best-of-five series (seedings, as always, in brackets):
- (1) Loko Yaroslavl tied 1-1 with (7) Krasnaya Armiya Moscow
- (3) Dynamo St. Petersburg lead 2-0 over (4) Almaz Cherepovets
- (2) Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk tied 1-1 with (8) Siberskie Snaipery Novosibirsk
- (4) Chaika Nizhny Novgorod tied 1-1 with (6) Snezhnye Barsy Astana
Chaika are the defending Kharlamov Cup Champions.
Mike Keenan wasn’t the only coach in the news this week; Slovan Bratislava have extended the contract of their bench boss, Miloš Říha, until 2018. It could not be more deserved; Slovan almost dropped out of the KHL last year, and as result missed a good chunk of the off-season roster-building period before things got sorted out. However, under Říha the Slovak team was not only competitive, but made the KHL playoffs, even if its tenure there was very brief. With Říha under contract, and a full off-season to build the team, it will be very interesting to see how Slovan get along in 2016-17.
It was a fairly quiet week in terms of KHL player movement, but Spartak Moscow did re-sign their 2015-16 Captain, veteran forward Maxim Potapov. The 35-year-old, who spent most of his career at Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod with a brief stint at Atlant before joining Spartak in 2015, had a line of 9-8-17 in 40 games this season. He also scored Spartak’s first goal upon their return to the KHL, against Dinamo Minsk last August. Potapov’s new contract will run for the next two seasons.
We will close as usual with the update on our team of interesting players for this season:
G Juha Metsola (Amur Khabarovsk): 44 gp, 2.15 GAA, .927 sv%. Missed playoffs, season over. Metsola has been called to Finnish camp preparing for the upcoming World Championship.
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 — 10 gp, 1-3-4, +7, 8 PiM, 21:18 TOI/gm. Zaitsev went pointless, but +2, in Game 1 of the Conference Final — the only game CSKA have played since our last update.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): Regular Season — 55 gp, 19-17-36, +10, 91 PiM, 17:08 TOI/gm. Playoffs — 14 gp, 1-4-5, -3, 8 PiM, 17:45 TOI/gm. Only an assist, and a -1, to show for three games this week.
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 — 11 gp, 7-7-12, +6, 0 PiM, 20:24 TOI/gm. Like Zaitsev, he played only one game this week, in which he scored a goal. Mozyakin now has 12 points in his last seven matches.
And that will do for this week’s notes! The posting here in the next few days will have much to do with the upcoming Women’s World Championship (barring unforeseen breaking news, of course), so do check back. Thank you, as always, for reading!