Krasnaya Armiya Take the Kharlamov Cup
The 2016-17 season is in the history books in Russia’s top junior league; Krasnaya Armiya Moscow, junior side of CSKA Moscow, defeated Reaktor Nizhnekamsk today to complete a four-game sweep of the Kharlamov Cup Final. Read on, for some thoughts!
Krasnaya Armiya’s toughest step on the road to their second Kharlamov Cup (they previously won it in 2011) was actually the opening round of these playoffs. Having finished the regular season with a record of 40-16, good for second seed in the West behind SKA-1946 St. Petersburg, the Moscow youngsters were taken to the limit in their opening best-of-five series against seventh-seeded Dynamo St. Petersburg. Facing elimination down two games to one, Krasnaya Armiya rallied with consecutive 6-3 victories to advance. They haven’t lost a game since; three-game sweeps of Russkie Vityazi Chekhov and Kuznetskie Medvedi Novokuznetsk followed, setting up the four-game romp against Reaktor.
The Nizhnekamsk team, who are part of the club at the KHL’s Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, had finished in top spot in the East with a record of 40-20 (the East Conference of the MHL plays more games, due to differing numbers of teams). The playoffs saw them defeat Avto Yekaterinburg (four games), Sibirskie Snaipery Novosibirsk (the full five games for that one), and Almaz Cherepovets (four games) to reach the final.
But Reaktor could find no answer to what Krasnaya Armiya, under the guidance of rookie head coach Boris Mironov, asked of them. A hat-trick from Semyon Koshelev, and four assists by Danila Kvartalnov, paced the Moscow side to a 7-4 opening-game victory in Nizhnekamsk. They were even more dominant in Game 2; Koshelev and Andrei Kuzmenko each supplied three points in a 6-1 victory. That sent the series back to Moscow, and a familiar refrain: three points each from Koshelev and Kuzmenko and a 7-2 victory. Game 4, the clincher, was the only one that stayed relatively close, as it was tied at 1-1 until Ivan Silayev scored the Kharlamov Cup winner five minutes from the end (2-1 was the final score).
Neither Krasnaya Armiya nor Reaktor had any players in the top ten for scoring (points or goals) during the regular season, and the reason is quite simple: both teams brought in, for the playoffs, some young players who had spent considerable time in 2016-17 with the parent teams in the KHL, and that experience proved invaluable to both MHL finalists. Krasnaya Armiya’s Kuzmenko, who led all playoff scorers with a line of 11-13-24 in 13 games and took home the playoff MVP award for his efforts, scored 15 points in 34 KHL games this season, which isn’t bad at all, and he added 27 in 23 contests in the second-tier professional VHL. Koshelev (10 gp, 11-9-20 in the MHL playoffs) also managed 15 points in the KHL this season, that in only 27 games. Both Kuzmenko and Koshelev are 21 years old, and so at the upper end of the MHL age limit. For Reaktor, 20-year-old Pavel Poryadin (14 gp, 8-14-22 in the MHL playoffs) led the way, having scored 12 points in 46 KHL contests in 2016-17. That is not to take away anything from those players — all three are among the most promising KHL prospects around right now — but it is a reality that both Kharlamov Cup finalists benefited from their parent teams not progressing very far in the KHL playoffs (CSKA Moscow stunningly went out in the second round, while Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk didn’t make the post-season at all).
Older, KHL-experienced, stars notwithstanding, Reaktor Nizhnekamsk and Krasnaya Armiya Moscow deserve full credit for making the Final, and the latter for taking home the Cup. For one thing, both enjoyed excellent regular seasons, suggesting that with or without reinforcements they were among the best teams in the league. And for another, they were certainly not the only MHL teams to benefit from early ends to their parent squads’ seasons.
A historical note or two: Krasnaya Armiya are the fifth different winner of the Kharlamov Cup in the last five seasons. In winning their second title, the Moscow side joins Omskie Yastreby Omsk as two-time champions in the league’s eight-year history. Six different teams, therefore, have won the Cup, and nine have now made the Final (in the latter category, Krasnaya Armiya lead the way with four appearances, while 2016-17 was Reaktor’s first).
Congratulations, therefore, to both finalists, but particularly to coach Mironov and his Krasnaya Armiya side!
The top junior league may be finished, but the second-tier NMHL still has one game left to play. Dizelist Penza and Gornyak Uchaly will meet tomorrow in the decisive Game 5 of their championship Final. Gornyak are defending champions in that league, while Dizelist are hunting for their first title.
Thank you for reading! Tomorrow, Russia plays Sweden for bronze at the Under-18 World Championship, having dropped a 2-1 overtime decision to Finland in today’s semi-final. A recap of the medal round of that tournament will be up at some point on Sunday evening!