A Few News Notes
After a slow blogging week due to general business, this will be a “getting caught up on the KHL story” sort of post. Read on, for the last four teams standing in the hunt for the Gagarin Cup, the passing of a legend among Russian hockey journalists, and some early news about what the KHL will look like in 2017-18.
The big news of the last few days, unfortunately, was of the sad variety: on Saturday, former Soviet Championship player and longtime analyst and commentator Sergei Gimaev passed away at the age of 62. The cause of death was given as a heart attack, which struck while Gimaev was playing in an Old-Timers’ game in Tula, south of Moscow.
Gimaev played as a defenceman, coming up through the youth system at Salavat Yulaev Ufa before moving to the army club. Beginning in 1976-77, he spent ten seasons in the top Soviet division, the first nine of those with CSKA Moscow before he played one last year with SKA Leningrad. He also dressed for the Soviet national team on six occasions, all of those in 1982 at the Rude Pravo Cup and Izvestia Cup tournaments. His son, also Sergei, now plays in the KHL for Vityaz Moscow Oblast.
A solid player during his career, Gimaev became famous thereafter, when he turned his attention to broadcasting and journalism. He worked for a number of media outlets, most recently Match TV, and by the time of his death, his opinion and analysis were sought just about any time anything of any note whatsoever happened in Russian hockey. It is a mark of the esteem in which he was held that as news of his death filtered through the crowd in Yaroslavl yesterday, where his old team was taking on Lokomotiv, the fans chanted his name. As the Russian Hockey Federation put it in a statement: “A whole generation of young people grew up on the commentary and expert opinions of Sergei Nailevich.”
All condolences to the family and friends of Sergei Nailevich Gimaev.
Turning to the KHL, where all four participants in the Conference Finals are now known. Here’s how the Round 2 series finished up (Conference seedings in brackets):
(1) CSKA Moscow 2-4 (4) Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
And so we have the first big upset of the 2016-17 playoffs! But things looked dire for Lokomotiv in this one, especially when, tied 1-1 in Game 4 and trailing in the series two games to one, they saw their excellent goalie Alexei Murygin go down with an injury late in the second period. But in came Alexander Sudnitsin to stop 92 of 94 shots he faced over the rest of the series, and from the moment Murygin went down, Lokomotiv outscored CSKA 9-2 in winning Games 4, 5, and 6. In the KHL’s nine seasons, the regular season champs have never lifted the Gagarin Cup, and now they will have to wait until 2017-18 to try to break that curse.
(2) SKA St. Petersburg 4-1 (3) Dynamo Moscow
This series too turned on Game 4 when Dynamo, who were trailing two games to one coming in, produced an absolutely dominating performance, out-shot SKA 36-21… and still lost 4-1. The result highlighted a Jekyll-and-Hyde run of performances by the Moscow side’s talismanic goalie Alexander Yeryomenko. In the three road games of the series, Yeryomenko faced 117 SKA shots, but was beaten only six times — his usual solid performance, in other words. In Games 3 and 4 at home, however, he faced only 41 shots total, but still gave up another six goals.
Best wishes for a swift return to health, incidentally, to Dynamo head coach Sergei Oreshkin, who was hospitalized with hypertension late in the series and missed its final game.
(1) Metallurg Magnitogorsk 4-0 (5) Barys Astana
Barys can take some comfort from having forced overtime twice in this series, against a Metallurg scoring machine that looks nearly unstoppable at the moment. Danis Zaripov scored seven goals in the series’ first three games, Sergei Mozyakin popped up with eight points in its last three matches, and Jan Kovář was there with nine points of his own, including the series-ending overtime goal in Game 4. And then there’s defenceman Chris Lee, now with 13 assists (and a goal) in nine playoff games this season.
(2) Avangard Omsk Oblast 2-4 (3) Ak Bars Kazan
We know by now what Ak Bars Kazan’s strengths are, and that famous defensive rigour was on full display in this series. In the four games that they won, the Tatars gave up only two goals, total, and they held Avangard’s dangerous Vladimír Sobotka to no goals and two assists in the series. Ak Bars will, obviously, need all of that fortitude at the back in the next round, when the likes of Mozyakin and Zaripov come calling on behalf of Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
Finally, some early news about next season’s lineup of KHL teams. Medveščak Zagreb announced this week that they have been accepted as members of the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga next season (the EBEL is the Austrian-based league that also includes teams in some neighbouring countries). Now, this does not necessarily mean an exit from the KHL, as Medveščak could try to operate a “main” team in the Russian league and a reserve side in the EBEL, and the deadline for signing up for the 2017-18 KHL season is not for some weeks. However, team president Damir Gojanović, in an interview on the Medveščak website, certainly sounded as though he was ringing down on the curtain on the KHL period of the club’s history. Furthermore, Medveščak have struggled financially in the KHL (as the IIHF article linked above notes, they dressed only 14 players for their final game this season), and have been frequently mentioned when the topic of contracting the league has come up.
We shall see, and we will have much more about this story here at the blog once we have confirmation one way or the other. If this is “good-bye,” then best wishes to Medveščak in their EBEL future; the team from Croatia has been an awful lot of fun to follow these last few seasons.
Happier news came from the direction of Finland, and Jokerit Helsinki. 2016-17 was the third and last in the team’s original deal for KHL participation, and there had been some occasional murmuring about a return to Finland’s own Liiga. However, this past week, Jokerit announced that not only will they remain in the KHL, they will do so for at least five years. This year’s uneven on-ice performance notwithstanding, Jokerit are an excellent club, and KHL fans should be very pleased to have them on board long-term!
The KHL Conference Finals start on Thursday of this week; there will be previewing here before then. Tomorrow, we will cast a look back at the just-completed season of the Women’s Hockey League. Thank you for reading!