It is, as the old cliché goes, the goalie’s worst nightmare (one of them, anyway) and it came to visit Mikhail Biryukov of Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday evening. With his team in overtime, looking to level their first-round playoff series against Dynamo Moscow at a game apiece, Biryukov utterly failed to deal with a shot by opposing defenseman Andrei Kuteikin — a shot that was unleashed from the far-off realm of centre ice. It was a Bad Goal, one that the more unimaginative hockey commentators will name “One The Goalie Would Like To Have Back.” Worse, it gave Dynamo a 3-2 victory in the game, and a 2-0 lead in the series. Read on, as we travel down memory lane and discover that it was not the first time a Dynamo Moscow rearguard has scored a vital goal in a big game from a different time-zone.
Biryukov’s gaffe must have caused a twinge of sympathy in 43-year-old retired netminder Boris Tortunov, for he too was a victim of a long-range Dynamo Moscow attack at the worst moment. It was Valentine’s Day, 1999, and the setting was the Final of the European Hockey League, one of a number of attempts over the years to establish a continent-wide “Champions’ League” sort of tournament. In 1998-99, the third season of the EuroLeague (it lasted four), the winner-take-all final game featured a pair of Russian teams. On the one side were Dynamo, old stalwarts going back to the days of the Soviet Championship, and on the other was Tortunov’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk squad, then precocious newcomers to the top-flight Russian hockey scene. The game took place in Dynamo’s home rink, the Luzhniki Small Sports Arena.
With less than half a minute to go in the final frame, Metallurg looked to have the game and the championship won. Kazakh olympian Alexander Koreshkov had put them up 1-0 early in the third period, and Tortunov was in fine form (he would post the best save percentage of any EuroLeague playoff goalie that season, at .931). With only about 20 seconds left and Koreshkov’s marker still the only one of the game, an angled Dynamo shot missed the Metallurg net, rattled around the boards, and ended up all the way down the ice behind the Moscow side’s goal. That appeared to be that. But a young Dynamo defenseman named Andrei Markov wheeled back, collected the puck, and fired hopefully up-ice from just about his own goal-line. And there is video (Metallurg in blue, Dynamo in white):
Note: the video is the best-quality one I could find, but it shows the entire game. I have with any luck cued it up to a few seconds before the craziness. If not, you should look for the 1:52:24 mark, and start there.
The reactions of Tortunov and his team-mates are something to behold; their anguish is not hidden, not at all. Happily for them, their pain was to be of short duration. Only a couple of minutes of overtime had elapsed when Metallurg’s Kazakhstan connection struck again; Vladimir Antipin fired a point shot past Ildar Mukhometov in the Dynamo goal, and the Magnitogorsk boys were European champions. They got an extra dose of revenge a few weeks later when they became Champions of Russia for the first time, winning the Superleague final four games to two over… Dynamo Moscow.
As for Tortunov, he would go on to a an honourable journeyman’s career for a number of teams, a career that wrapped up in the Austrian league in 2009-10. He did play a few games in the KHL, for Vityaz Chekhov (as they were then), in the new league’s inaugural season of 2008-09. He is now a goaltending coach in his hometown, for the VHL’s Chelmet Chelyabinsk.
Markov, the young scorer of the long-distance goal in that EuroLeague final, is of course a familiar name to hockey fans. He joined the Montreal Canadiens in 2000, and patrols their blueline even unto this day. Only two defensemen — Larry Robinson and Guy Lapointe — have scored more points than Markov’s 562 while wearing le bleu, blanc, et rouge (Markov sits 19th overall on the Habs’ all-time points list, just behind Pete Mahovlich and ahead of Guy Carbonneau — pretty good company to keep!).
The “Where Are They Now” game is a fun one, so lets take a little bit more of a look at those 1999 EuroLeague rosters. To mention just a few familiar names: the winner of the key faceoff that led to Antipin’s overtime goal for Metallurg was current Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk head coach Andrei Razin. On the Dynamo side, Nik Antropov’s name will stand out for NHL fans, and current Dynamo captain Alexei Tereshchenko was part of the 1998-99 team as well. Also among the Moscow side’s players: Valery Belov, who just finished leading Vityaz Moscow Oblast (as they are now) to their first-ever KHL playoff berth. And one of Belov’s team-mates on that night at the Luzhniki now plays for him at Vityaz; the shot that ringed the boards back down the ice just prior to Markov’s goal came off the stick of Maxim Afinogenov, and it earned him what is quite possibly the longest assist in the history of hockey.
Back to where we started, with the unfortunate Biryukov. His team-mates have rallied round him following the Game 2 loss, as forward Vyacheslav Kulyomin elucidated post-game yesterday:
And there may yet be hope for Torpedo in the series, even down 2-0. For one thing, Biryukov, just as Tortunov in the 1998-99 season, has played extremely well outside of that one disastrous lapse. The 30-year-old netminder has stopped 81 of 85 shots in the two playoff games, giving him the third-best save percentage among KHL goalies in this admittedly very young post-season. Secondly, Torpedo has gotten to overtime in both the opening games, and on the road to boot. They now head home for a pair, and don’t be surprised if there is a lot more hockey yet to come in this one.
Thank you for reading!