Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: April 4th, 2016
So what do we have in this week’s set of notes? A job well done at the Women’s World Championship, the finalists for the Gagarin Cup, superstars (maybe) on the move, and all kinds of other matters… So read on!
The Russian women’s national team went into this year’s World Championship in Kamloops, British Columbia, with two purposes in mind: win a medal, and qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Mission accomplished, on both of those! The Olympic qualification goal was actually achieved without much fuss at all — Switzerland’s struggles at the tournament meant that Russia (along with Sweden, Finland, Canada, and the U.S.) had the five available spots wrapped up before the quarterfinals began.
While Team Russia finished the group stage of the tournament at 0-3, the format of the competition meant a quarterfinal game was guaranteed, and the eventual opponent at that stage was Sweden. The Russian women produced an excellent performance, winning it 4-1 on the back of four points from Olga Sosina to advance to a semi-final matchup with the Americans. The U.S. had won the group stage encounter by the score of 8-0, and they went one better this time, winning the semi-final by 9-0. And so it was off to Monday’s Bronze Medal Game for Team Russia, where Finland provided the opposition.
Finland won last year’s Third-Place game over Russia, by a 4-1 score, and had also taken the match between the two in the 2016 group stage, by 5-3. But this year’s Bronze Medal game was not to be a high-scoring affair, at all. In fact, goalies Nadezhda Morozova and Meeri Räisänen were perfect in regulation time, and the score stood 0-0 after 60 minutes. And it stood that way after 10 minutes of overtime, too, so a penalty shootout was needed. And finally, Russia found a way past Räisänen, as first Anna Shchukina and then the redoubtable Sosina buried their shootout attempts. Morozova (and a helpful goalpost) stymied the Swedish shooters, and Russia, for the third time, are Women’s World Championship Bronze medalists.
Tomorrow, here at the blog, we’ll discuss the tournament at more length (the USA, just now, took gold in a thrilling 1-0 overtime win over Canada)!
Switching to the KHL, we have our Gagarin Cup finalists! As noted last week, Metallurg Magnitogorsk were looking to close out the East Conference Final against Salavat Yulaev Ufa on Thursday, and they did exactly that, taking the series four games to one. The Ufans looked good early on in the decisive Game 5, sprinting out to a 2-0 lead thanks to Maxim Goncharov and Maxim Mayorov. Back came Metallurg, as Alexander Syomin, who had a fantastic series, set up goals by Danis Zaripov and Alexei Bereglazov. Off to overtime, and the first extra session produced no result. Early in the second OT frame, however, Bogdan Potekhin made a nifty through-the-legs pass to find a diving Yaroslav Kosov, who chipped the puck home and put Metallurg in the Final:
And so now CSKA Moscow await Metallurg with the Gagarin Cup on the line, and the opening game set for Thursday in the nation’s capital. On Wednesday, we will have a preview of the series, which will not be short of storylines in any way.
One final note on the East Conference Final — Salavat Yulaev may have lost out in the end, but they did succeed in bringing to an end the 12-game point streak amassed by Sergei Mozyakin. The KHL’s 2015-16 scoring champion was held off the board in Game 5 of the series, the first time he had gone without a point since the third match of the opening round.
Over in the VHL, meanwhile, the Bratina Cup Semi-finals are nearing their end, and we have our first confirmed finalist. Neftyanik Almetyevsk, from the Republic of Tatarstan, eliminated the 2014 champions, Kazakhstan’s Saryarka Karaganda, in a four-game sweep. Neftyanik will now await the winner of the series between THK Tver and Izhstal Izhevsk. As we noted last week, Izhstal, the tenth-ranked team coming into the playoffs, had pulled off a couple of upsets to get this far. Well, they are close to pulling off a third, leading top-seeded THK three games to one in that series.
The MHL, too, is down to its final four teams, with the Semifinal round well underway. Loko Yaroslavl, junior club of Lokomotiv, are on the verge of the Kharlamov Cup Final, leading Siberskie Snaipery Novosibirsk two games to none (these series are best-of-five). In the other Semifinal, Dynamo St. Petersburg and defending champions Chaika Nizhny Novgorod are tied up at one game apiece.
Heartbreak this week for hockey fans on the far-eastern island of Sakhalin. Local side HK Sakhalin looked to be closing in on a first-ever Asia League championship; after three games of the best-of-five Final against South Korea’s Anyang Halla, the Russians had a 2-1 series lead, with the last two matches to be played at home in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. But Halla rallied, evening the series with a 1-0 win in Game 4, before clinching the title in the deciding match by the score 5-3. Still, a successful season for HK Sakhalin, and here’s hoping they can put together a similar squad for the next campaign!
There have been further developments in the last few days on the subject of the KHL’s new farm league, apparently to be known as the Premier League. The new circuit is intended to encourage KHL teams to take their farm teams out of the VHL and put them together in a new competition, ostensibly to streamline the process of moving players from youth hockey to junior to the professional game and finally to the KHL itself (and possibly thereafter to the national team). So far, membership in the new league is optional for KHL clubs, and it was reported this week that 12 have applied to join. Only one of those is known for certain; Traktor Chelyabinsk have announced that their farm team, Chelmet Chelyabinsk, will join the Premier League. Sibir Novosibirsk, for their part, have announced that they will not be putting a team in the Premier League, at least not just yet.
The VHL, understandably enough, is leery of the whole project, and this past week some objections were publicly voiced. Managing Director German Skorupkov accused the KHL of trying to ruin the VHL, and expressed puzzlement as to why a new league is necessary in the first place. Russian Hockey Federation President Vladislav Tretyak has since said that his organization will work closely with the VHL to ensure that it survives. When the dust settles a little bit on this situation (and we know a bit more about the Premier League), we will take a longer look at it.
To expansion news — we got some conflicting news this week on the subject of Ilves Tallinn, the newly-founded Estonian club bidding to join the KHL for 2016-17. First, there were reports that Ilves would not be ready in time for the coming season — not terribly surprising, given that there has recently been relative silence on the team’s progress. However, a couple of days later came an about-face, with the news that the club has submitted the necessary application documents on time, and is continuing to work on the plan of joining the KHL for 2016-17. More bulletins on this one as events warrant.
A rather intriguing rumour sprung up this week about the future of Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk. The 37-year-old from Yekaterinburg, owner of 1030 NHL points in 1102 games (regular season and playoffs combined), may be heading back to Russia and the KHL this off-season for family reasons, according to Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman. This is far from being a confirmed thing, of course, but we might have a thought or two about where a repatriated Datsyuk would end up. His hometown Avtomobilist club is a fun possibility, although the management there have already said that they could only sign him if he agreed to play pro bono. CSKA Moscow, where Datsyuk played during the 2012-13 lockout, certainly could afford to pay him, and should probably be considered candidates as well. If Datsyuk does leave Detroit, his eventual destination will be one of the big stories of the summer, without a doubt.
CSKA may have another reason to pursue Pavel Datsyuk, and that would be to fill a possible large hole in their forward corps. Again, nothing has yet been carved in stone on this, but the word is that Alexander Radulov has turned down a contract extension from CSKA with the intention of returning to the NHL. Radulov has been at CSKA for the last four seasons, and has also played in the KHL for Salavat Yulaev Ufa. He is a three-time winner of the KHL scoring title, most recently in 2014-15. However, most North American fans likely remember Radulov mostly from his tempestuous and controversial time with the Nashville Predators. Radulov played two years of his three-year entry level contract with Nashville, then bolted to Salavat Yulaev in 2008. He returned late in the 2011-12 season to finish up his contract with the Predators, and was promptly suspended for missing curfew during the playoffs. That summer, he moved to CSKA, where he has become one of the lynchpins of the team.
The Maple Leafs, along with the Islanders and Rangers, are said to be in the hunt for Radulov’s services.
Other front office news from around the KHL: Alexei Morozov has been offered the job of General Manager at Ak Bars Kazan, although he has reportedly not decided whether to accept it yet. Morozov is a somewhat legendary figure in Kazan, having spent nine years from 2004 to 2013 as captain there, winning the Gagarin Cup twice in the process.
And HK Sochi have extended the contract of Head Coach Vyacheslav Butsayev. It is probably a smart move; despite the club’s serial brushes with financial difficulty over the course of this season, Butsayev guided his charges to a top-four finish in the KHL’s West Conference. Even though they were subsequently swept from the playoffs by Dynamo Moscow, it must go down as an excellent season on the ice for the second-year team. Butsayev’s new deal will cover the next two seasons, with an option for a third.
The KHL free-agent begins at the end of this month, but there have already been some early moves. Among those, Vityaz Moscow Oblast have re-signed Czech forward Roman Horák to a two-year deal; Horák was Vityaz’ second-leading scorer in 2015-16, with 27 points in 57 games.
Spartak Moscow, meanwhile, have cleaned out their foreign player contingent. Not returning to the team next year will be goalie Atte Engren (Finland), defencemen Chay Genoway (Canada) and Dmitry Korobov (Belarus), and forward Casey Wellman (USA). One of those now-open foreign player slots, however, has already been filled; blueliner Marcus Högström is reportedly on his way to Spartak from Djurgårdens IF of the Swedish Hockey League.
Normally, we would have our usual update here on the team of KHL players we’ve been following with particular interest this season. However, since the last set of news notes went up, there has been but one KHL game — the decisive encounter in the East Conference Final which we already talked about above. So that will do for this week’s notes — thank you as always for reading, and do check back for discussions of the Women’s World Championship and the upcoming Gagarin Cup Final later on this week!