Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: April 26th, 2016
As we discussed here and here, the Gagarin Cup, Bratina Cup, and Kharlamov Cup have all now been awarded for 2015-16, so we are rapidly approaching the off-season portion of the year. Of course, the IIHF Men’s World Championship is yet to be played, and there are Russian players still going in the NHL playoffs as well. Read on, as we discuss those stories and some other matters as well!
(Note: due to technical issues, some of the linked articles have note been translated.)
The end of the Gagarin Cup playoffs, and the elimination of eight teams for the NHL’s post-season, led to a spate of call-ups this week to the Russian national team’s selection camp. Champions Metallurg Magnitogorsk had Sergei Mozyakin and Alexander Semin (or Syomin) get the call, while from runners-up CSKA Moscow were summoned Alexander Radulov, Nikita Zaitsev, Ilya Sorokin, Denis Denisov, and Ivan Telegin.
That immediately triggered a bit of a controversy, as Radulov, one of the best players in the KHL, has not yet reported to the national team; reports earlier this week had him in New York, negotiating with various NHL teams about next season. It now seems that he will in fact join his compatriots for the World Championship, possibly this coming weekend, but that is not yet quite confirmed. Also unconfirmed is the state of his relationship with the Team Russia coaching staff; Radulov has been known in the past to get crosswise of his bench bosses on occasion, and Russia’s Head Coach Oleg Znarok has a bit of a temper on him too. This story is probably not yet done…
With the Chicago Blackhawks eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, forwards Artemi Panarin and Artyom Anisimov will join the national team, and Pavel Datsyuk likewise from the Detroit Red Wings. Datsyuk has been much in the news lately with rumours of his retirement from the NHL doing the rounds. The player himself has said that he will defer any decision until after the World Championship. Florida Panthers blueliner Dmitry Kulikov is said to be injured, and may have to miss the tournament.
As the new call-ups trickled in this week, the national team continued its preparation for hosting the World Championship with a pair of games against Sweden, and they got a split from the mini-series. The first game saw the Russians come out flat and concede three times in the second period on the way to a 4-1 defeat. While both teams had a few NHLers in the lineup, it was Swiss League player Linus Klasen who did most of the damage with a pair of goals. The lone Russian marker was an all-SKA St. Petersburg effort; Yevgeny Dadonov scored it, with assists to Vyacheslav Voynov and Vadim Shipachyov.
The second game featured a much better effort by the Russian team, as they not only found the range on offense but enjoyed a stellar night of goaltending by Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The SKA boys continued to impress too, as Shipachyov scored twice. The other two Russian goals also came from members of the KHL contingent, namely Stepan Sannikov (Sibir Novosibirsk) and Daniil Apalkov (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl). Nail Yakupov of the Edmonton Oilers recorded his first ever point for the senior Russian national team, with an assist on Apalkov’s goal.
The national team will take on Finland this coming Thursday and Saturday, in the final two games before the World Championship begins on May 6th.
As we discussed at some length here this week, Russia’s Under-18 boys’ team fell at the quarterfinal hurdle of that age group’s World Championship in Grand Forks, North Dakota this week. Given the odd circumstances surrounding the Russian team at the tournament, the sixth-place result is no great shame at all, and I invite you to follow the link above for more chit-chat about that.
Sticking with national team news, the Russian Ministry of Sport hosted a reception this past week for the country’s bronze-medal-winning women’s team. After the players had been honoured, Head Coach Mikhail Chekanov spoke of the upcoming Olympics and indicated that the selection process for that tournament starts now. Minister of Sport Valery Mutko also spoke at the event, and hinted that Minsport will step up its support for women’s hockey in Russia, which would be excellent news.
Back to the KHL, where the expansion story for 2016-17 took a turn for the bizarre this past week. April has witnessed quite a lot of discussion of a potential Swedish entry in the league next season, despite the continued opposition to the project on the part of the Swedish Ice Hockey Association. The proposed new club, to be called “Crowns,” already had put forward some odd notions, including that it would play home games in a number of different cities and even countries in Scandinavia. The club’s organizers had also announced the dates and opposition for its first KHL regular season games, which must have come as news to the KHL.
Then, last Friday, the “Crowns” organizers held a press conference, and… well, my colleague Arto Palovaara called it “one of the most strange events I have ever witnessed.” From all accounts, it was painfully obvious that the organizing team was in no way prepared: there was confusion over who would coach the team and where the money was coming from, and certainly no answers at all when it came to the question of SIHA approval. In the wake of the conference, the Swedish media was scathing, with Sanny Lindström of SportExpressen writing that “the KHL project has died, most likely, after today’s miserable press conference.” Mats Wennerholm of Aftonbladet called the whole thing “one big joke,” and I could go on.
The KHL has kept fairly quiet about the “Crowns” project, which is telling in itself. The Russian Hockey Federation, for its part, weighed in after the press conference with a comment stating merely that the wishes of the SIHA would be upheld, and that no Swedish club could join a Russian league without the consent of that body. The “Crowns” organizers themselves acknowledged the opposition of the two federations, and said they were looking at “new strategies” to achieve KHL membership. It would, at this point, be a tremendous surprise if there is a Swedish team in the KHL when the 2016-17 season opens.
Russia’s national Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, under the chairmanship of Vladimir Putin, met in Kazan this past week specifically to talk about hockey in the country. While there were no dramatic developments from the meeting, there were some interesting things said nonetheless. The Russian President himself indicated that he will be speaking to the head of the IIHF very soon on the subject of the World Juniors in 2022 (untranslated link), which Russia would like to host. St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk are the proposed sites, and the latter city is planning a new arena with at least a partial eye on the 2022 tournament.
There was also a good deal of talk about the the Championship of Russia, which is awarded by the FHR and is technically separate from the Gagarin Cup. Somewhat confusingly, the criteria for Russian champions has changed a few times over the last few years; sometimes the prize is given to the Russian KHL team that goes furthest in the playoffs, and sometimes to the one that does best in the regular season. At the Kazan meetings, former Soviet national team captain Boris Mikhailov opined that it should be the best Russian team in the KHL regular season, and furthermore that the Russian Championship should get a good deal more attention.
Big news this week regarding the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea: it seems unlikely that NHL players will take part (money, unsurprisingly, is the issue, as the IOC has announced that it will not pay expenses and insurance for NHL players as it had in the past). If NHL players do not attend the Olympics, that will obviously be something of a golden opportunity for the KHL and other top European leagues (assuming, of course, that they decide to break for the Olympics, which is likely). We will keep you posted on this one!
As already mentioned above, the NHL playoffs are in full swing, and Russian stars including Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals), Yevgeny Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis Blues), and Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay Lightning) have all progressed with their teams to the second round. Kucherov is having a particularly spectacular playoffs; in Tampa Bay’s five-game Round 1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings, he scored 5-3-8 and went +6.
Next Sunday will commence the annual free agency period in the KHL, so between now and the next news notes we will likely see at least a small flurry of players changing teams. In the meantime, however, a couple of clubs have been busy re-signing players already under contract. Some significant such moves from this past week include:
- SKA St. Petersburg have re-signed 19-year-old forward Alexander Dergachyov, a L.A. Kings draft pick who played for Russia at the World Juniors the last couple of years. Dergachyov scored two goals in 33 games in his first KHL season this year, and added one assist in his 15 playoff appearances — not spectacular, but he is only 19.
- Long-time Russian national team regular Konstantin Barulin will continue to guard the HK Sochi net for another season (untranslated link). Barulin played 53 regular season games for Sochi in 2015-16, and posted a .926 save percentage, which is on the good side of just fine.
- Salavat Yulaev’s defence corps will keep a bit of its edge in 2016-17, as Maxim Goncharov will be back on the blueline in Ufa (untranslated link). Goncharov was second on the team in penalty minutes in 2015-16 with 61, while scoring 3-8-11 in 47 regular season games.
- Latvian forward Kaspars Daugaviņš, leading scorer for Torpedo this past season with a line of 44 gp, 14-21-35, will be back at the Nizhny Novgorod team for the next two seasons (untranslated link)
- Ak Bars Kazan’s Finnish netminder Jussi Rynnäs is off to Oulun Kärpät of the Finnish Liiga for next season (untranslated link). Rynnäs posted a .921 save percentage in 19 games for Ak Bars in 2015-16, about league average, but was rendered surplus to requirements by the mid-season arrival of Stanislav Galimov from CSKA.
- And goalie Joacim Eriksson, who put up a .919 save percentage in 34 games for Dinamo Riga this year, will continue his career with Växjö Lakers of the Swedish league in 2016-17 (untranslated link).
There was some KHL coaching news this past week as well, or at least a coaching rumour. Dinamo Minsk are said to be considering Canadian Craig Woodcroft for their head coaching job (untranslated link). Woodcroft, 46, was an assistant with Adler Mannheim of the German league for the last couple of seasons before becoming interim head coach there in February of this year. However, he has some experience in Belarusan hockey, having helped out with the national team at last year’s World Championship. Woodcroft’s brother Jay, incidentally, as an assistant with the Edmonton Oilers of the NHL.
Finally, a bit of sad news from the world of Russian hockey this week, with the passing at the age of 74 of former goalie Anatoly Ragulin (untranslated link). Ragulin played 10 years in the Soviet Championship, between 1959 and 1969, for Khimik Voskresensk, CSKA Moscow, Krylya Sovetov Moscow, and Dizel Penza.
Interestingly, Anatoly was a triplet, and his two twin brothers Mikhail and Alexander also played hockey at the top level. Alexander Ragulin, who passed away in 2004, is the best known of the trio; he was a star defenceman for Soviet national team for more than decade, and was famously photographed eyeball-to-eyeball with Phil Esposito at the 1972 Summit Series. Anatoly’s death leaves Mikhail as the last surviving Ragulin brother.
And so we have arrived at the last update of the season on our little team of players of particular interest. Over the next few weeks we will look at their 2015-16 stories in more detail, but here are the final totals:
G Juha Metsola (Amur Khabarovsk): 44 gp, 2.15 GAA, .927 sv%. Missed playoffs.
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 in the first round.
D Nikita Zaitsev (CSKA Moscow): Regular Season — 46 gp, 8-18-26, +21, 20 PiM, 21:01 TOI/gm. Playoffs — 20 gp, 4-9-13, +7, 10 PiM, 22:32 TOI/gm. Lost in the Gagarin Cup Final, but his six-point performance in the first three games against Metallurg was a memorable, and he should be on the Russian team at the World Championship. Zaitsev will almost certainly be a Toronto Maple Leaf next season.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): Regular Season — 55 gp, 19-17-36, +10, 91 PiM, 17:08 TOI/gm. Playoffs — 19 gp, 2-5-7, -4, 16 PiM, 19:02 TOI/gm. Eliminated from playoffs in the third round. Despite a poor post-season run, Prokhorkin has been invited to the Russian national team’s World Championship selection camp.
F Olli Palola (Vityaz Moscow Oblast): 27 gp, 1-4-5, -8, 10 PiM, 13:42 TOI/gm. Missed playoffs.
F Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk): Regular Season — 57 gp, 32-35-67, +11, 0 PiM: 21:01 TOI/gm. Playoffs — 23 gp, 11-14-25, +14, 2 PiM, 21:16 TOI/gm. He won the KHL’s regular season and playoff scoring titles, the playoff MVP award, and — oh yes — the Gagarin Cup. A pretty good year, all in all!
Thank you for reading!