Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: May 16th, 2016
Time for another edition of news notes! We will check in briefly with Monday’s happenings at the World Championship, take note of yet another twist in the tale of the prospective Swedish KHL team, and look at some of the major player moves involving Russians. And why the picture of the cosmonauts’ hockey team above? All will be revealed — read on!
At the World Championship on Monday, Russia rested Sergei Mozyakin and Sergei Bobrovsky, but still eased past Norway by a 3-0 score. It was a nice first-ever start at the Worlds for young goalie Ilya Sorokin, who picked up the debut shutout, and he had to work for it too, particularly in the third period. Ivan Telegin, Artemy Panarin, and Roman Lyubimov scored the Russian goals.
That result means that Russia can finish first, second, or third in Group A depending on the outcomes of Tuesday’s games. First place simply requires that Russia earn more points against Sweden than the Czechs do against Switzerland. And at least second place will be assured as long as Russia does not lose to Sweden in regulation. On Wednesday, here at the blog, we’ll take a longer look at these last two games of the round robin and preview the medal round a little bit.
Things are not getting any less bizarre in the saga of the “Crowns,” the aspiring Swedish KHL entry. As we have discussed here before, the Swedish Ice Hockey Association has made it clear, with IIHF support, that it is not ready at this time to allow a Swedish club to enter the league. For its part the KHL has said that it will respect the SIHA’s rights in this matter, while expressing some understandable unhappiness about the Association’s stance. Toss in a truly bizarre press conference held by the “Crowns” top brass a few weeks ago, and it looked like the project was pretty much dead in the water, at least as far as 2016-17 was concerned.
The “Crowns” organizers, however, have not given up, and they are now proposing to move the team to another jurisdiction with a more agreeable national association. In itself, it is not a ludicrous idea; something very similar has already happened in the KHL, when the proponents of a Czech team could not get permission from the national body, and ended up running HK Lev in the Slovak city of Poprad for a season before the project moved to Prague (that’s an oversimplification of what happened, but it will do for now).
However, the site chosen by the “Crowns” people is… Luxembourg? Indeed so, it would seem. A bemused Monique Scheier, head of the Luxembourg Ice Hockey Federation, noted that the country has only one rink, which seats but eight hundred people, and expressed reasonable doubt that a KHL team in the country could be made to work. Further bulletins on this one as events warrant, but I would not bet large sums of money on the presence of a Luxembourgian KHL team in 2016-17 (thanks to Vorky for the heads-up on this story).
As noted last week, the annual Festival of the Night Hockey League, Russia’s top amateur circuit, has been going on in Sochi for the past couple of weeks. That gathering, featuring tournaments for a variety of age groups and talent levels, wrapped up on May 14th. Here is a quick run-down of the various champions:
- Champions’ League (Age 40+ — the Krutov Cup, and a grant for construction of an arena): Avto Yekaterinburg
- Future Champions’ League (Age 40+ — winners earn their region a berth in next year’s Champions’ League): VHK Smolensk
- League of Dreams (Age 18+): Neftyanik Dzhalil
- Future Champions’ League (Age 18+): Aizovets Yuzhnouralsk
- Amazons (Women’s Competition): Grad-1 Moscow
- Grand Slam Cup: HK Nashi (Zvyozdny Gorodok)
- Hope Cup: Nochnoi Metallurg Novokuznetsk
Congratulations to all the champions, and indeed to all the 150 or so teams that took part! I would draw your attention particularly to HK Nashi, winners of the invitational Grand Slam Cup. HK Nashi (literally: “Our Hockey Club”) was originally founded in 1963 by Yuri Gagarin as the recreational team for the Soviet Union’s cosmonauts. At some point, the team went into hiatus, but it was re-founded in 2014, still in “Star City” near Moscow, and still serving the Russian space program. The team that played in Sochi this past week featured three cosmonauts as well as employees of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre.
On to the doings of the KHL off-season:
The New York Rangers have signed their 2013 third-round draft pick, forward Pavel Buchnevich, to an entry-level contract. The 21-year-old native of Cherepovets came up through Severstal’s youth system, and made his KHL debut with them during the 2012-13 season. A full-time KHLer from 2013-14 on, Buchnevich left Severstal late in 2015-16 for SKA St. Petersburg. Despite his tender years, he already has 178 KHL games under his belt, during which he has scored 38-52-90. Scouts speak glowingly of his speed and shot, and Rangers fans have been anticipating his arrival since he was drafted.
Another promising Russian prospect also signed with his NHL draft team this past week, when 18-year-old forward Denis Guryanov put his signature on an entry-level deal with the Dallas Stars. Guryanov, a native of Tolyatti who came up through the ranks with his hometown Lada team, played 47 KHL games this past season. Although he scored just 4-1-5 in that time, that came in quite limited ice-time (only about 10 minutes per game); again he is only 18.
Possibly heading across the ocean the other way are Arizona Coyotes forwards Viktor Tikhonov and Sergei Plotnikov, rumoured to be close to signing with SKA St. Petersburg. There are parallels between the two: both had come over from the KHL last summer, and both began the 2015-16 season on teams other than the Coyotes. Tikhonov, who previously played in Arizona in 2008-09, accompanied SKA team-mate Artemy Panarin to Chicago in 2015. However, after failing to post a point in 11 games and being frequent healthy scratch, he was waived in December and moved on to the Coyotes, where he scored 3-3-6 in 39 games to close out the campaign.
As for Plotnikov, he was coming off a 2014-15 regular season in which he scored 15-21-36 for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl when he signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins last summer. Things did not work out, however; Plotnikov scored only two assists in 32 games for the Penguins, and was traded to Arizona in February for a minor-leaguer and a late pick. He would go on to add one more assist in 13 games for the Coyotes.
So, disappointing 2015-16 seasons for both men, and if their rumoured moves to St. Petersburg do come to pass, they will be looking to get their careers back on track in Russia in 2016-17.
Speaking of gentlemen for whom 2015-16 will be best forgotten, Finnish forward Olli Palola is leaving Vityaz Moscow Oblast for Växjö Lakers of the Swedish League. Palola (one of the players whom we followed with particular interest here at the blog this past winter) was something of a coup when he turned down bigger KHL names and signed with unfashionable Vityaz in the summer of 2015, as he was the two-time reigning goal-scoring champion of the Finnish Liiga. But his time in Podolsk, the little town south of Moscow that is home to Vityaz, was nothing short of disastrous. Injury and ineffectiveness meant that he played only 27 games, and none after early December. In the time he did spend on the ice, he scored only a single goal and added four assists. It should have been much different, but here we are, and Palola’s departure from the KHL cannot be seen as a surprise. Hopefully he can find his groove again in southern Sweden.
An interesting signing for Sibir Novosibirsk, who have recruited Finnish two-way forward Joonas Kemppainen from the Boston Bruins system. Kemppainen, a 28-year-old from Kajaani, scored 2-3-5 in 44 games for the Bruins last year in his first North American season (he added 1-4-5 in 11 matches for Providence of the AHL). Those are not eye-popping numbers, but in the past few years Sibir have made a habit of getting extremely good performances out of guys that other teams passed by, and it is a skill that has launched them into the ranks of the KHL’s better teams. Kemppainen is definitely one to keep an eye on in 2016-17.
Avangard Omsk also made a very interesting signing this past week, plucking veteran defenceman Andrei Kuteikin from SKA St. Petersburg. A long-time player for Salavat Yulaev Ufa, Kuteikin had been in St. Petersburg for the past three seasons, and scored career highs in goals (12) and points (27) during the team’s Gagarin Cup championship season of 2014-15. Injuries hampered him last season, when he posted a line of 6-6-12 in 29 games. Kuteikin is one of those highly useful players who can go a bit un-noticed, and he should be a valuable edition to an Avangard team that figures to be among the real contenders for title honours next season.
“Radulov signs for Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk” cried the headlines this past week, but NHL teams can relax — the Radulov in question is Igor, older brother of the more famous and probably North America-bound Alexander. Igor Radulov, a 33-year-old forward, spent 2015-16 as an assistant captain at Spartak, where he scored 5-2-7 in 29 games. He is a true journeyman, with 137 points in 354 KHL games, and Ugra will be his ninth different team in the league, and his eleventh overall in top-level Russian hockey. The elder Radulov spent a couple of seasons in the Chicago Blackhawks organization in the mid-2000s, scoring 16 points in 43 NHL games.
And we will finish off with some goalies switching teams. Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, looking to replace the departed Jakub Kovář, have acquired former Salavat Yulaev back-up Vladimir Sokhatsky for a couple of young prospects. The 26-year-old has a career .902 save percentage in 72 KHL games — whether Avtomobilist are willing to trust him with the starting job remains to be seen.
Ján Laco, who has manned the nets for Barys Astana for the past couple of seasons, is leaving the KHL for Piráti Chomutov of the Czech Extraliga. Laco posted a .914 sv% in 43 games in 2015-16.
And one to watch for the future: Belgian goalie Wouter Peeters, 17 years old and ranked 6th among European netminders for this summer’s NHL draft, has joined Jokerit Helsinki’s junior program from EC Salzburg for the coming year. The 6’4″ teenager is highly unlikely to see any KHL action in 2016-17, but could be an rather interesting guy to follow!
And that will do for this week’s notes, I think. There will be further World Championship updates in the coming days, and of course another set of news notes will be along next Monday or Tuesday!