Crossing Over in the MHL
Round 2 of the Kharlamov Cup playoffs in the MHL, Russia’s top men’s junior league, finished up last week, and we are now on the eve of Round 3: the semifinal round. Read on, for quick look at what happened in the quarterfinals, and a peek ahead to the pairings for the final four!
Round 2 in the West Conference saw both the favourites advance, and without too much difficulty. Top-seeded Loko Yaroslavl lost their first game to Dynamo St. Petersburg (in a shootout!), but recovered to win the next three. In the last two victories of the round, Loko were reinforced by forward Artur Kayumov, sent down from parent team Lokomotiv upon their elimination from the KHL playoffs; the 20-year-old Kayumov (a 2016 draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks) will be one to keep in mind in the semifinal. Meanwhile, second-seeded SKA-1946 St. Petersburg overcame Spartak Moscow’s eponymous junior side in three straight games. SKA’s youth team has a deep, deep, roster, but one player who has stood out is big 20-year-old defenceman Kirill Basisty, who has five points in six games in this post-season.
In the East, as in Round 1, oddity reigned in the second round. Both series ended in sweeps, but it was both the lower seeds who advanced. Seventh-seeded Reaktor Nizhnekamsk dealt with top-ranked Mamonty Yugry Khanty-Mansiysk in just three games, aided in large part by their lethal forward trio of Razat Timirov (8 gp, 7-7-14), Bulat Nabiullin (8 gp, 8-5-13), and Bulat Shafigullin (6 gp, 4-10-14). Reaktor, like Loko, benefited from their parent KHL team’s elimination, as Shafigullin joined the roster after Neftekhimik were knocked out. In the other series, Belye Medvedi Chelyabinsk, ranked sixth, eliminated fourth-seeded Avto Yekaterinburg in three straight. The story around Belye Medvedi these playoffs continues to be the goaltending tandem of Vladislav Sukhachyov (3 gp, .948 sv%) and Sergei Mylnikov (3 gp, .949 sv%).
Unlike the KHL (at least for now), the MHL teams cross over when it comes time for the semifinal round; the top remaining seed from the West Conference plays the lowest seed left from the East, and vice versa. However, the highest seed in each pair, regardless of the Conference, gets home-ice advantage for the best-of-five series. So, the semifinal pairings look like this:
- (1W) Loko Yaroslavl vs. (7E) Reaktor Nizhnekamsk
- (2W) SKA-1946 St. Petersburg vs. (6E) Belye Medvedi Chelyabinsk
The standings would suggest that an all-West Kharlamov Cup Final will follow, but don’t be fooled. Loko will have to contend with that trio of league-leading scorers that Reaktor can boast, although Loko’s own netminder, Ilya Konovalov, has also been excellent in these playoffs (7 gp, .948 sv%). SKA-1946, meanwhile, will bring their tremendous organizational depth up against Belye Medvedi’s superb goaltending. If Belye Medvedi’s parent team, Traktor Chelyabinsk, go out of the KHL playoffs — and they currently trail Ak Bars Kazan two games to zero) — then SKA-1946 will also likely have to deal with 18-year-old Vitaly Kravtsov (14 gp, 6-5-11 in the KHL playoffs so far). So there is nothing automatic about either of these series.
The semifinal round starts on Tuesday, and a reminder here that the MHL streams its games live both on YouTube and at the league website. Thank you for reading, and Happy Easter to all those celebrating this weekend!