This and That (Updated)
I think we will take this evening to get caught up on a few things going on in the world of Russian hockey right now! The past few days have seen some interesting coaching news in a couple of different leagues, as well as some tidings relating to the 2018-19 KHL goaltending picture (we were just talking about that, too!). Read on, for those stories and a few others!
We will start with a coaching change in the Women’s Hockey League, where Vladimir Malmygin will take over behind the Arktik-Universitet Ukhta bench in 2018-19. Malmygin replaces Andrei Kunyakov, and the move is not a great surprise, it must be said. Arktik-Universitet finished in the sixth and second-last place, missing the playoffs as they stumbled to a 4-20 record. The team failed to record a victory over any team except last-place SK Sverdlovsk Oblast, and out-going coach Kunyakov’s year-end interview suggested, to my ears at least, that there might have been some dissension in the ranks.
As for Malmygin, the 48-year-old Chelyabinsk native comes win with a fairly lengthy coaching resume in Russian women’s hockey. From 2010 to 2015, he was on the staff at Agidel Ufa, including a stint as the team’s Head Coach. Malmygin left that post in December of 2015, to be replaced by current Ufa bench boss Denis Afinogenov.
And another coaching change, this time in the KHL! Avangard Omsk have hired former NHL coach Bob Hartley to lead the team in 2018-19. Hartley was a successful AHL coach before spending 15 years behind the benches of the Avalanche, Thrashers, and Flames; he won the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL’s best coach with Calgary in 2014-15. His curriculum vitae also includes a Calder Cup championship with the Hershey Bears in 1996-97, and of course the Stanley Cup he won as coach of the Avalanche in 2000-01. For the past couple of seasons, Hartley has been in charge of the Latvian national team, guiding them to the quarterfinals of 2018 World Championship after narrowly missing out on the medal round in 2017, and will apparently continue in that job in addition to running Avangard. He will be joined behind the Omsk bench by former Metallurg Magnitogorsk assistant (and Peterborough Petes Head Coach) Mike Pelino.
For Avangard, 2017-18 was a season of some discontent. After a red-hot start, the team faded badly, and was newly-hired coach Andrei Skabelka was replaced mid-season by interim hire German Titov. Avangard did manage to scrape into the playoffs — barely, on the last day of the regular season — but were dispatched in the first round by Salavat Yulaev Ufa. The upshot of that has been a makeover in the front office, with Maxim Sushinsky, a star player for Avangard in the first decade of this century, coming in as club president, and Alexei Morozov joining the group as a member of the Board of Directors.
Over the past weekend, we took a look here at KHL goaltending during the 2017-18 season and going forward, and I mentioned in both the posts (West Conference and East Conference) that the situation described was likely to change. And indeed it has, at least for a couple of teams. Avangard Omsk, who as described are making big changes this off-season, will reportedly acquire Finnish ‘tender Karri Rämö from Jokerit Helsinki. Rämö was very good as Ryan Zapolsky’s backup in 2017-18, with a .930 sv% in 18 regular season games followed by an even-better .954 sv% in six playoff appearances. He also knows Omsk well, having played for Avangard from 2009 to 2013; he was a KHL All-Star twice in that four-season span. This move is not yet official, but has been rumoured strongly enough that I think it is very likely at this point.
Rämö’s departure from the Finnish capital, should it indeed occur, will leave the spot as Zapolsky’s backup open; it may be that 20-year-old Juho Ratilainen will get a chance at the role, but as he struggled in Finland’s second-highest league last season, I suspect that Jokerit will let him develop some more, and look elsewhere for Zapolsky’s understudy. The move also will mean the end of Dominik Furch’s three-year stint as Avangard’s starter; his destination is unknown, but rumoured to be Severstal Cherepovets.
Update: Both Rämö’s move to Avangard and Furch’s to Severstal are now confirmed.
The other significant KHL goalie move of the last couple of days involves Sweden’s Magnus Hellberg, whom Kunlun Red Star Beijing have traded to SKA St. Petersburg for monetary compensation. Hellberg did a very nice job for the Chinese side in 2017-18 (51 gp, .936 sv%), and was rewarded with his World Championship debut for Sweden at the 2018 World Championship (he was good there too: 3 gp, .938 sv%). With his departure, Kunlun Red Star have only journeyman Alexander Skrynnik signed at the goalie position, and although he was not dreadful in limited 2017-18 action (9 gp, .921 sv%), I cannot see the team entering 2018-19 with him as starter. Expect a new goalie incoming there, in other words.
At SKA, Hellberg will likely be asked to back up young Russian Igor Shestyorkin, the presumptive starter. However, given the 27-year-old Swede’s recent strong play, the St. Petersburg team may well opt for more of a “1A-1B” look in goal. The move will probably mean that Nikita Bogdanov, stellar for SKA’s VHL farm team in 2017-18, continues his work in that league, while also serving as an excellent third choice for the KHL side.
As we discussed in the West Conference goalies post, Slovan Bratislava were very weak at the position in 2017-18, and I mentioned the possibility of Slovan signing Slovakian national team goalie Marek Čiliak. That is now an “official rumour,” although the fact that Slovan today parted ways with General Manager Patrik Ziman may complicate matters. Further notifications here as events warrant them, on this story.
In the VHL, Russia’s second-highest men’s pro league, the season-ending awards ceremony was held this weekend. You can see the full list of honourees here; I will mention in particular on the winner of the Anatoly Firsov award for the Most Outstanding Player as voted by his peers. That one went to Gornyak Uchaly forward Nikita Setdikov, who was the regular-season scoring champion with a line of 48 gp, 21-32-53. The 23-year-old’s exploits were not enough to get Gornayk to the playoffs in their debut season in the VHL, but earned him a one-game cup of coffee with KHL parent club Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. Setdikov is currently an RFA, and it will be interesting to see if Avtomobilist bring him back, and if so whether he gets some more games in the top league next season.
As with the KHL, the VHL’s season-closing festivities were preceded by a meeting of the league’s leadership group. The most interesting piece of news coming out of that was that the VHL is considering applications from three teams to join the circuit in 2018-19. Two of them we already knew about: Lada Togliatti and Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk were removed from the KHL members after this past season, and both have now applied for membership in the second league. And now it appears that there may be a team coming up as well. HK Tambov have applied to join the VHL, after winning the Federations Cup as champions of the third-tier PVHL earlier this spring.
There was a little bit of international hockey action in Russia this past weekend, with the holding of the U20 men’s Black Sea Cup tournament in Sochi. The get-together involved the junior teams of Denmark and Switzerland along with a pair of Russian U20 squads. The home teams dominated, each going 2-0 against their guests to set up today’s meeting to determine the tournament champion. In the end, it “Russia White” that took it, defeating “Russia Red” 5-3 on the strength of two goals by 18-year-old Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk prospect Alexander Yaremchuk.
Somewhat “old news” here, but we have one more champion of a Russian domestic league to acknowledge. The Student Hockey League is Russian’s men’s university circuit, run by the Russian Hockey Federation and having just concluded its second season. And the league’s top division, the “Master” Division, has a repeat champion: earlier this month, the Ural State Mining University, based in Yekaterinburg, defeated HK Derzhava, the team of the G.R. Derzhavin Tambov State University, to lift the trophy once again.
This may be the first mention of the Student Hockey League at this blog, for the simple reason that it is quite new and I am only just starting to get familiar with it. I hope to have more intelligent things to say about the university league next season, but in the meantime, its webpage is here, and you can follow them on Twitter here!
One last little note today, and it is one definitely to be filed in the “situations to watch” category. Reports this week indicate that former NHL first-overall pick Nail Yakupov has split with his longtime agent Igor Larionov. As you are probably aware, Yakupov has not come close to matching his draft pedigree in his NHL career (a shame, since he is a complete class act), and his 2017-18 season saw him a frequent healthy scratch for the Colorado Avalanche. Larionov is known for liking his clients to play in North America, and the recent split between him and Yakupov is likely to clear the latter’s way for a return to Russia and the KHL. As for exactly where he will suit up in 2018-19: his KHL rights are currently held by SKA St. Petersburg, but Ak Bars Kazan have also come up in rumours, and we should also remember that his father Rail Yakupov is General Manager of Nail’s hometown team, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk. Wherever he ends up, I sincerely wish Nail Yakupov all the best.
Thank you for reading!
Posted on May 29, 2018, in 2017-18, 2018-19, International Hockey, Junior Hockey, KHL, NHL, Pervenstvo VHL, RWHL, Student Hockey League, VHL, Weekly News Notes, Women's Hockey. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.