Finals Week, and Other Notes
This is a bit of a “tidying-up” sort of post; it includes updates on all of the various league Finals going on or starting this week, as well as some news from the FHR and previews of imminent international hockey attractions. So read on, as we go all over the place!
It is indeed “Finals Week” in Russia, with six different leagues watching their championship series. A very quick run-down of those leagues and Finals looks as follows:
- KHL: Ak Bars Kazan lead CSKA Moscow 1 game to 0 (best-of-seven).
- Women’s Hockey League: Agidel Ufa vs. Tornado Moscow Oblast begins April 19th (best-of-five).
- VHL (second-tier men’s pro): Dynamo St. Petersburg vs. SKA-Neva St. Petersburg begins April 17th (best-of-seven).
- PVHL (third-tier men’s pro): HK Tambov lead HK Cheboksary 2 games to 0 (best-of-seven).
- MHL (top-tier men’s junior): Loko Yaroslavl tied with SKA-1946 St. Petersburg at 1 game apiece (best-of-seven).
- NMHL (second-tier men’s junior): Dizelist Penza lead Batyr Neftekamsk 2 games to 0 (best-of-five).
And I should mention one other final, now concluded: Pervomaiskie Lvitsy Korkino this weekend won the inaugural championship of the amateur League of Women’s Hockey Under-18 Division (the Olympic Hopes Division). I will have much more to say about it, and about the excellent championship tournament in general, in a women’s hockey update tomorrow. For now, however, congratulations to Pervomaiskie Lvitsy, and also to runners-up Severyanka Cherepovets!
There were developments also this past week at the Russian Hockey Federation. First of all, the Federation has re-elected Vladislav Tretyak to another four-year term, his fourth. Tretyak was elected by acclamation this time (Vyacheslav Fetisov ran against him in 2014). That is reasonable enough; Tretyak is widely seen as an energetic and capable FHR President, and has long been one of hockey’s great diplomats. Of course, this winter’s Olympic gold medal did not hurt his chances either. Tretyak has long banged the drum for further construction of arenas in Russia, as well as development of hockey in the outlying regions, so we can expect more of a push in those areas. As for relations with the KHL, that will be a far more fraught and intriguing discussion, and we will have more on developments there as they occur.
The other big news from the Russian Hockey Federation this past week was the end of a coaching era; after four years in charge, Oleg Znarok will not lead Team Russia into this season’s IIHF Men’s World Championship. “Psychological fatigue” was given as the reason for his departure, but Znarok, who replaced Zinetula Bilyaletdinov after the 2014 Olympics, can only be said to have done everything asked of him; he really does have nothing left to prove. In addition to the afore-mentioned Olympic gold in South Korea, his Russian team brought home a medal from all four World Championships for which he was behind the bench (a gold, a silver, and two bronzes was the exact tally). Critics may note that he won those World Championship medals in the exact order in which I presented them there, so the trend was not exactly good, but then again, he did finish up his Team Russia coaching career by winning the Olympics. Znarok will remain associated for now with the Russian team, but only as a consultant.
Znarok is also expected to leave his post at SKA St. Petersburg, having won the Gagarin Cup there in 2016-17. His replacement, both for SKA and for Russia, is likely to be 43-year-old Ilya Vorobyov, himself a Gagarin Cup winner in 2016 as Head Coach of Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Vorobyov was let go by Metallurg this past November, but we should not read too much into that; he had been hampered in Magnitogorsk by some key departures from his roster over the course of last summer. Vorobyov has been one of Znarok’s assistants with the Russian national team for the past couple of seasons, and was rumoured to be taking over at Avangard Omsk for next season. Obviously, the joint appointment to SKA and the national team will be a bigger deal.
As for Znarok, he will remain in his consultant’s role until the end of May, and it will be very interesting to see where he ends up after that. He is still only 55, and I think it likely that we will see the often prickly, but highly capable, coach back behind a bench again before too much longer. One fascinating rumour has him trying his luck in the NHL, and that… well, I hope it happens!
In addition to all the league Finals, there is some international hockey action upcoming this week as well! On April 19th, the 2018 IIHF Men’s U18 World Championship will commence hosted in Russia (Magnitogorsk and Chelyabinsk, to be precise) for the first time since 2013. The Russians collected a bronze medal at last year’s tournament in Slovakia, at which the Americans won their third gold in four tries by beating Finland in the Final. The bronze was Russia’s first medal at the U18 Worlds since 2011. At some point this week, we will take a detailed look at the Team Russia roster here at the blog.
Also starting this week, on Monday in fact, is the second edition of the U16 Women’s European Championship, whose inaugural gold medal winner was the Russian team at last year’s tournament in Hungary. This year’s edition is being held in the Finnish village of Vierumäki, and the Russian roster can be seen here; we will take a closer look at it in the afore-mentioned women’s hockey update that will run tomorrow. I will mention here, however, one pressing roster question to which we now have an answer: would Tornado Moscow Oblast, about to begin the Women’s Hockey League Final, release excellent young forward Yelizaveta Shkaleva (11 gp, 9-2-11 in the League this season, at the tender age of 15) for the Euros? They have done so, and she is listed on the Team Russia roster; I imagine that the will return to Tornado for Game 3 of the Final.
A couple of other quick notes about the U16 Euros: the schedule is very condensed. During the Group Stage, teams will play two 40-minute games per day, and that will be followed by a medal round under the usual conditions (one 60-minute game per day). Another slight oddity in this tournament is that will feature two Finnish teams: the “regular” U16 side, and the “U18 Challengers” — basically Finland’s U18 ‘B’ team. Group A at the tournament is comprised of that Finland U18 Challengers team, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, and Russia. Group B includes Austria, Czechia, Finland U16, Japan, and Hungary. The top two in each group will advance directly to the semifinal.
And that’s about all the tidying up needed for today, I think! The blogging schedule this week looks will include a women’s hockey update, a Women’s Hockey League Final preview, a look at the U18 Men’s Worlds roster, and at some point an update on the Gagarin Cup Final. Also tips of the hat to the teams that win some of those Finals I mentioned off the top. Thank you for reading!