Thursday, 17 August 2017

KHL - Pre-Season 2017 Round Up - Part 4

Wednesday was Day 2 of the Nizhny Novgorod Governor’s Cup, and four of the six competing teams were in action. The one consistent theme s far has been the lack of consistency, with Tuesday's victors struggling and Tuesday's vanquished recovering.

Metallurg Novokuznetsk vs. Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg: 1-3 (0-0, 0-2, 1-1).

A story of triumph over adversity by Avtomobilist, who made up for yesterday's defeat by Ak Bars by claiming a hard-fought victory over Metallurg Novokuznetsk. The Yekaterinburg team had to start without one of yesterday's goal scorers, Francis Pare, due to a mystery illness and lost Taylor Beck in the first period through injury. This was due to a foul by Metallurg's Ivan Gulyayev, for which the latter received a game misconduct for kneeing.
Head coach Vladimir Krikunov said after the game: “As for Beck, we'll wait and see. It's too early to say. As for the roster, we don't have any settled lines yet, as we have 14 new players plus injuries and illnesses, and that's probably why we couldn't score for quite a while.”
That “quite a while” was the first 36 minutes of the game, until Alexander Torchenyuk put the Motor Men in front. The wait for the second goal was far shorter - a mere 2 minutes 18 seconds, to be precise, had elapsed until Artyom Gareyev doubled the lead. Novokuznetsk hit back with a goal by Juraj Majdan a little over 6 minutes from the end, but the win was sealed when Evgeny Chesalin, who assisted on Torchenyuk's opener, converted a penalty shot with 19 seconds remaining.
Metallurg Novokuznetsk - Avtomobilist

Torpedo (Nizhny Novgorod vs. Ak Bars Kazan: 3-1 (21, 1-0, 0-0).

The hosts enjoyed a much better Day 2 than Day 1, when they were kept off the scoreboard by Salavat Yulaev. The match was preceded by a tribute to former Torpedo legend and 1984 Olympic Gold medalist Vladimir Kovin, who was presented with various honors recognizing his contributions to club and country, and the team grabbed its first goal of the season after just two minutes, whenKaspars Daugavins scored on the game's first powerplay.
02.08.17. Cup governor of Nizhny Novgorod region 2017. Torpedo (Nizhny Novgorod) - Ak Bars (Kazan)
The match was a feisty affair littered with penalties, and as a result, it was the powerplay units which decided the outcome. Ziga Jeglic made it 2-0, again with the man advantage, while the men from Kazan needed three spells of numerical superiority before Alexander Svitov notched his second goal in successive days on the 12-minute mark. The contest remained a tight one until Danil Veryayev made it 3-1 late in the second period. That was the end of the goals, but not the end of the action. The third period saw tempers frayed, conflicts erupting, helmets flying, and yesterday's game-winner Justin Azevedo even earning a misconduct penalty.
Torpedo - Ak Bars

Ak Bars head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov spoke after the game: “Torpedo made much better use of the man advantage, but there were so many penalties – in total, we were short-handed for an entire period. I preferred yesterday's match to today's. Against Avtomobilist we played the right way, but today we were sloppy in many areas.”
At least no-one could complain that preseason games are timid affairs.

The standings after Day 2 were as follows: 
1-Avtomobilist – (2 games, 4 points);
2-Spartak (1,3);
3-Salavat Yulaev (1,3);
4-Torpedo (2,3);
5-Ak Bars (2,2);
6-Metallurg Novokuznetsk (2-0).

Elsewhere on the friendlies front:

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl vs. Amur Khabarovsk: 3-1 (0-1, 1-0, 2-0)

Lokomotiv welcomed Amur to Yaroslavl for a practice match in which both teams were missing key players. Amur were without Atyushov and Frolov, while the Railwaymen had sent five players - Kraskovsky, Korshkov, Polunin, Rafikov
and Lyubushkin - to join up with the Russian Olympic team in the Sochi tournament, while Kozun and Talbot have been called up for Team Canada Amur had the better of the opening stages and Alexei Byvaltsev put them ahead in the 11th minute, but Daniil Apalkov leveled the score half-a-minute before the second interval and Artur Kayumov gave the hosts a 2-1 lead half-a-minute after the teams returned to the ice. Nikita Cherepanov sealed the win with Lokomotiv's third.

Jokerit Helsinki vs. Sibir Novosibirsk: 1-0 (0-0, 1-0, 0-0)

Defenses were on top in Wednesday's encounter between Novosibirsk and Helsinki. Sami Lepisto scored the only goal of the game in the 29th minute.

Slovan Bratislava vs. HC Zlin (Czech Republic) – 4:6 (1:3, 1:2, 2:1)

Milos Riha saw his men suffer their third preseason defeat at the hands of his fellow Czechs, after back-to-back defeats at Dynamo Pardubice, but this reversal might have hurt a little more as it took place in Bratislava.
Slovan's goals were scored by Buchtele, Liska, Repik and Kaspar.

Day 3 of the Nizhny Novgorod Governor’s Cup featured a thrilling “Green Derby,” between Ak Bars and Salavat Yulaev, and an absorbing encounter between Avtomobilist and Spartak.
Ak Bars Kazan vs. Salavat Yulaev Ufa: 4-3 (0-0, 2-1, 2-2)
Erkka Westerlund's Ufa Men had enjoyed a full day's rest going into this game against their deadly rivals, whereas Zinetula Bilyaletdinov's Ak Bars had spent the previous day in a bruising encounter against the tournament hosts, Torpedo. Therefore, it was fair for the casual observer to reckon that Salavat Yulaev's fresher legs would be a considerable advantage, and so it proved in the opening stages. The Ufa Men did, indeed, dominate the shot count in the first period, but ominously, they failed to turn their superiority into goals.
03.08.17. Cup governor of Nizhny Novgorod region 2017. Ak Bars (Kazan) - Salavat Yulaev (Ufa)
Salavat finally got the puck in Emil Garipov's net three-and-a-half minutes into the second period, thanks to a goal in powerplay from Teemu Hartikainen, but the retaliation from Ak Bars was swift and brutal. Soon it was Ben Scrivens's turn to pick the puck out of the onion bag as Fyodor Malykhin equalized on 26 minutes, and a mere 106 seconds later Artyom Mikheyev put the Kazan Men in front.
Ak Bars - Salavat Ulaev

Then came the third period, and for Salavat Yulaev, things were to get worse before they got better. In the 43rd minute veteran forward Alexander Svitov scored against his former club to make it 3-1, and ten minutes later Svitov hit his second goal of the game, his fourth of the tournament, and his sixth of the preseason. Ak Bars fully deserved the 4-1 scoreline, and Salavat Yulaev deserve equal praise for fighting back to give the fans a barnstorming finish. Maxim Mayorov pulled a goal back with 6 minutes remaining, and on 56.36 Teemu Hartikainen completed his double to set up a nail-biting finish.
Salavat Yulaev's new head coach Erkka Westerlund spoke about the defeat:
“Today I got a taste of how matches between Salavat Yulaev and Ak Bars are such great contests. The result was bad, but at the same time it was our best game so far. Yes, we made some basic errors and Ak Bars had no trouble capitalizing on them, so we'll investigate what went wrong and make sure we play a more intelligent game in future.”
Ak Bars fans

Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg vs. Spartak Moscow: 3-2 SO (1-0, 1-0, 0-2, 0-0, 1-0).
The second match on the menu was another roller coaster affair between two wildly unpredictable (and therefore highly watchable) teams experimenting with various combinations. Spartak dominated the opening period in most areas except the one that mattered – goals – and went into the first interval wondering why they had failed to convert a host of chances while Andrei Obidin scored on one of Avtomobilist's rare assaults on goal.
03.08.17. Cup governor of Nizhny Novgorod region 2017. Avtomobilist (Yekaterinburg) - Spartak (Moscow)
Things got worse for the Red-and-Whites in the second period, as they not only shipped another goal (scored by Evgeny Chesalin on 24.29) but Czech forward Lukas Radil was sent to the locker room for elbowing Avto defenseman Stanislav Yegorshev. Like the men from Ufa, however, Spartak showed true gladiatorial spirit in Act 3 of the drama. First came Alexander Komaristy's 50th-minute goal in powerplay, and then, as we entered the last 5 minutes, the dramatic fightback was complete when new signing Stanislav Chistov beat Igor Ustinsky in the Yekaterinburg goal. Overtime could not divide the protagonists, and eventually, Dmitry Megalinsky won the crucial shootout duel with Spartak goalie Markus Svensson to bring victory to Avtomobilist.

Tournament standings after Day 3:
1-Avtomobilist (3 games, 6 points);
2-Ak Bars (3 games, 5 pts);
3-Spartak (2 games, 4 pts);
4-Salavat Yulaev (2 games, 3 pts);
5-Torpedo (2 games, 3 pts);
6-Metallurg Novkuznetsk (2 games,0 pts)
Avtomobilist - Spartak

In other preseason games...
Pelicans (Lahti, Finland) vs. Severstal Cherepovets: 3-6 (1-2,0-2, 2-2).
Severstal outgunned the Finns in impressive style, thanks to goals from Adam Masuhr, Matej Stransky (2), Alexander Shcherbina, Pavel Chernov and Petr Holik.
Kometa Brno vs. Slovan Bratislava: 3-0 (0-0, 1-0, 2-0).
The Slovaks continued to struggle against their neighbors, suffering their fourth defeat in four preseason games against Czech opposition.

Day 4 of the Nizhny Novgorod Governor’s Cup began with an intriguing afternoon match-up between one of the League's traditional title contenders, Salavat Yulaev, and one of the pack of outsiders, Spartak, followed by an evening game between the hosts, Torpedo, and the departing Metallurg Novokuznetsk, now preparing for a life in the VHL.
Salavat Yulaev Ufa vs. Spartak Moscow: 3-1 (1-0, 1-0, 1-1)
Both these teams were smarting from defeats on the previous day and so had plenty to prove. The men from the Russian capital had fought back valiantly from 0-2 down against Avtomobilist and then dominated the resulting overtime, only to see their efforts wiped out in the shootout, while the men from the Bashkortistan capital had lost the Green Derby 3-4 against fierce rivals Ak Bars.
Salavat Yulaev – Spartak

The most obvious casualties from Thursday's failures were the goaltenders, both of whom were replaced for Friday's game: Salavat Yulaev brought in Andrei Kareyev while the Red-and-Whites elected for Nikita Bespalov.
04.08.17. Cup governor of Nizhny Novgorod region 2017. Salavat Yulaev (Ufa) - Spartak (Moscow)
As a result, the game turned out to be something of a rarity – a contest which went the way one would have expected. Both teams were more consistent and more disciplined, and Ufa's strength in depth proved decisive. A goal in each period – one from Evgeny Korotkov and two from Enver Lisin  - went unanswered until Ryan Stoa's late powerplay goal gave Spartak fans something to cheer.
Salavat Yulaev - Spartak

Goals: 1:0 Korotkov (Kulyash, Kubalik, 13.45), 2:0 Lisin (Bodrov, Makarov, 35.10), 3:0 Lisin (Bodrov, 41.14), 3:1 Stoa (Lajunen, 51.08,PPG)
Goaltenders: Kareyev – Bespalov

Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod vs. Metallurg Novokuznetsk: 4-0 (0-0, 2-0, 2-0)
The evening game also went true to form. The hosts have had an up-and-down tournament, going down to Salavat Yulaev and then bouncing back up to conquer Ak Bars, whereas Novokuznetsk has understandably struggled following the exodus of players to KHL clubs.
Torpedo - Metallurg Novokuznetsk

The Nizhny Novgorod staff added plenty of youth and inexperience into the roster, but the team was still too strong for the Blacksmiths, and after a close opening period the remainder of the game was one-way traffic. Gennady Stolyarov and Mikhail Smolin scored in the second period, and after the interval, further strikes from defenseman Pavel Medvedev and ex-Dynamo Moscow forward Yegor Dugin, grabbing his first goal in a Torpedo jersey, removed any doubt about the outcome.
Torpedo - Metallurg Novokuznetsk

Goals: 1:0 Stolyarov (Alyayev, Rasskazov, 23.08,PPG), 2:0 Smolin (Kurbatov, 32.05), 3:0 Medvedev (Jeglic, Barantsev, 43.49), 4:0 Dugin (Barantsev, 49.15).
Goaltenders: Galimov – Kasutin

Tournament standings after Day 4 (all teams having played 3 games):
1. Salavat Yulaev – 6 points;
2. Torpedo - 6 points;
3. Avtomobilist – 6 points;
4. Ak Bars – 5 points;
5. Spartak – 4 points;
6. Metallurg Novokuznetsk – 0 points;

Lokomotiv vs. Amur: 5-2 (2-2, 0-0, 0-0, 3-0)
This pair met two days previously, when the Yaroslavl side claimed a 3-1 win, but this rematch was not a mere replay. While the Yaroslavl squad differed little, with seven players on national team duty in Sochi, the Amur team welcomed the return of its first offensive line - Marek Kvapil, Alexander Frolov and Tomas Zohorna - plus Juha Metsola in goal.

The teams wasted no time in going on the offensive, sharing four goals in the opening period. Pavel Dedunov put the visitors in front but Denis Mosalyov replied. Alexander Frolov restored his new team's advantage, but Yegor Fateyev hit back for the hosts. The next two periods belonged to the goalies, and so we were treated to an unusual overtime. The teams had agreed they would play out the added fine minutes regardless of whether ether team scored, and as a result we were treated to three Lokomotiv goals, from Daniil Apalkov, Vladislav Kartayev, and Mosalyov's second of the night.

Goals: 0:1 Dedunov (Toluzakov, Lyutov, 05:54), 1:1 Mosalyov (Nakladal, Kronwall, 08:55,PPG), 1:2 Frolov (Kvapil, 12:50), 2:2 Fateyev (Apalkov, Kudryavtsev, 17:58), 3:2 Apalkov (Averin, 60:36), 4:2 Kartayev (Kapustin, 61:54), 5:2 Mosalyov (Osipov, 63:27,PPG)
Goaltenders: Sudnitsin – Metsola

Pelicans vs. Severstal: 4-3 (1-1, 3-0, 0-2)
The bad news for Severstal boss Alexander Gulyavtsev is that his team came off second best in an entertaining game in Finland. The good news is that his inquest need only concentrate on the second period, when the Finns did the damage with three unanswered goals.

Saturday saw the opening game of the Sochi Hockey Open – the third preseason tournament to feature KHL clubs and one with a formidable list of participants, divided into two groups of three:

Group А: SKA (Saint Petersburg), Metallurg (Magnitogorsk), Kunlun Red Star (Beijing)
Group B: HC Sochi, Russia Olympic Team, and Team Canada

SKA vs. Kunlun Red Star: 4-2 (2-1, 0-0, 2-1)
For Saturday's curtain-raiser, the organizers chose two teams for whom the previous season was an undisputed runaway success. The team from Beijing only existed on paper a little over a year ago, yet they qualified for the playoffs in their debut season, while the northern capital's Army Men won the Gagarin Cup with the kind of swashbuckling, attacking hockey which persuades hordes of youngsters to grab their skates, sticks and pucks and try to emulate their heroes.
Oleg Znarok

Cheered on by a large contingent of fans from Petersburg, Oleg's Znarok's champions swiftly seized the initiative and had their opponents on the back foot for much of the opening skirmishes, and when an early power play came their way, Alexander Barabanov gratefully took full advantage. Any hopes of a rout, however, were certainly misplaced. No-one should expect a Mike Keenan team to surrender, and when the match had reached the 15-minute mark with no further goals from the Petersburg Men, there was a hint of inevitability about Red Star's leveler: Andrei Kostitsyn's fierce shot from the blue line could only be parried by Mikko Koskinen, and Brandon Yip pounced to make it 1-1. Then it was SKA's turn to show its mettle. Mr. Barabanov clearly took exception to seeing his goal canceled out, and 30 seconds before the first interval he forced the coaches to re-write their team talks by grabbing a second. The second period was competitive enough, but sporadic outbreaks of fisticuffs meant the officials were often busier than the goaltenders. There were several two-minute penalties for Kunlun players and one for Ilya Kovalchuk, but the scoreboard operators were not called into action until the final minutes of the third period. And that final action-packed spell belonged to Barabanov. The 23-year-old completed his hat-trick with a 54th-minute, ricochet-assisted goal, and while the “Dragons” showed their teeth once more with Brandon Yip's second of the game, Barabanov had the last word with a last-minute empty-netter.
Sergei Shirokov , Andrei Kostitsyn

SKA head coach Oleg Znarok
“It was only our second outing, after the game in Finland against Jokerit, and the team has already put in some very hard preseason training. Some things have come off well and others haven't, but it's good that we've won...

… As for the absent ones, Voynov and Zubarev are still recovering from injuries sustained last season, and we expect to have them back before the end of September. Datsyuk is back in full training with the team, but we won't rush into anything. I think that by the time the Nikolai Puchkov Tournament (August 14 – 17) comes around, we'll have the Kovalchuk – Datsyuk – Plotnikov line back in action.

As for Barabanov, we'll just do all we can to ensure he keeps producing his best hockey, at least until the end of February (smiles).”
Kunlun Red Star head coach Mike Keenan:
“It was a good game, and it allowed us to have a look at the players who had no experience of hockey at this level. From our point of view, I'm glad we played against the reigning champion, because it is in battles against this kind of opponent that we can evaluate the level that we'll demand of our team. Our players are beginning to understand what is expected of them in order that they become one of the League's leading clubs.

Building a team takes time, but we'll make definite progress over the course of the season. It is not easy creating a system - you can only test it against opponents in competitive conditions, and we and the players need time to get to know one another.”
05.08.17. Sochi Hockey Open. SKA (St.Petersburg) - Kunlun Red Star (Beijing)

Goals: 1:0 – Barabanov (Shirokov, Koskiranta, 01.50), 1:1 – Yip (Vorobei, Kostitsyn, 15.15), 2:1 – Barabanov (Zub, Koskiranta, 19.29), 3:1 – Barabanov (53.14), 3:2 – Yip (Kostitsyn, Daloga, 57.56), 4:2 – Barabanov (59.11)
Goaltenders: Koskinen – Hellberg
HC Sochi vs. Russian Olympic Team: 1-5 (0-3, 0-1, 1-1)
Host team HC Sochi was faced with the unenviable task of starting the tournament against a Russian Olympic Team, formed as a stepping-stone to Oleg Znarok's Team Russia, and therefore packed with players who hope to represent their country at next year's Winter Olympics. As might be expected, it proved a stern test for the southerners and they headed into the first interval already 3-0 down. Lokomotiv's Alexander Polunin produced a precision strike over Konstantin Barulin's shoulder for an early opener, and his fellow Railwaymen combined to make it 2-0 inside the first five minutes – Pavel Kraskovsky's sublime pass setting up Yegor Korshkov to score. Just before the interval, Ak Bars forward Stanislav Galiyev, back on Russian ice after his stint in North America, notched a third.
Ilya Shestyorkin

Sochi steadied the ship after the interval and spent much of the second period probing and pressing around Ilya Shestyorkin's goal, but a few minutes before the second intermission the hosts found themselves playing 3-on-5, and another Ak Bars man, Vladimir Tkachyov, hit Russia's fourth. The home fans finally had something to cheer in the 52nd minute, when Pavel Padakin beat Ilya Shestyorkin in power play, but the four-goal margin was restored within minutes by that formidable Lokomotiv line - Polunin and Korshkov combined and Pavel Kraskovsky finished the move.
Yury Alexandrov, Kirill Kaprizov

Russian Olympic Team head coach Oleg Bratash :
“It wasn't a bad game. We won because we took our scoring chances and we played well as a unit when killing penalties. As for the Yaroslavl line, the results speak for themselves – they got three of our five goals...

… I was very pleased with the young players, and when we sent on Andrei Altybarmakyan in the third period he did everything right in every episode, apart from the last one, when he should have scored but decided instead to dazzle us with his skills (smiles).

I remind everyone that our goal is to help the senior Russian national team, and if Oleg Znarok decides that we need to try out some older players here, then that is what we'll do.”
HC Sochi head coach Sergei Zubov:
“Both teams had chances to score. I won't name-and-shame anyone, but some players got over-emotional and others were struggling to adjust to hockey at this level. We are trying to have a look at all our players, and for some of them this is a great test. We have a lot of important games ahead of us and we're looking to the future with optimism. No, I had no desire to take Barulin off after the second goal, and he will keep goal for us tomorrow.”
05.08.17. Sochi Hockey Open. HC Sochi (Sochi) - Russia Team
Goals: Polunin – 0:1 (Kaprizov, 02.14), Korshkov – 0:2 (Kraskovsky, 4.49), Galiyev – 0:3 (Kaprizov, 19.05), Tkachyov – 0:4 (Chudinov, Khafizullin, 36.13), Padakin – 1:4 (51.35), Kraskovsky – 1:5 (Polunin, Korshkov, 53.51)
Goaltenders: Barulin – Shestyorkin
Metallurg Novokuznetsk vs. Ak Bars: 0-5 (0-0, 0-3, 0-2)
Meanwhile, in the Nizhny Novgorod Governor’s Cup, Galiyev and Tkachyov's Ak Bars faced off against the men from Novokuznetsk, and it seems the men from Kazan, despite the absence of the forward pair on duty in Sochi, are still not lacking in firepower. Metallurg coped admirably for the first half of the game, but after Artyom Mikheyev broke the deadlock in the 31st minute, the floodgates opened. Further goals from Jiri Sekac, Anton Glinkin, Fyodor Malykhin and Maxim Sidorov gave Ak Bars a 5-0 win and placed them at the top of the tournament table.
Standings after Day 5:

1. Ak Bars (4 games, 8 points);
2. Salavat Yulaev (3,6);
3. Torpedo (3,6)
4. Avtomobilist (3,6);
5. Spartak (3,4);
6. Metallurg Novokuznetsk (4,0).

The new Salavat Yulaev head coach speaks about his advancing years, Dmitri Kvartalnov, Vladimir Yurzinov, the pressure of the job, and how he plans to piece together the puzzle known as Salavat Yulaev.
Erkka Westerlund needs no introduction to Russian fans, although many would prefer to forget one of the Finnish specialist's career highlights. It was, of course, Westerlund who was head coach of Team Finland at the Sochi Olympics, where the Finns put an end to the Russian team's Olympic dream, after which he arrived in the KHL as boss of Jokerit. Having coached the Helsinki team for two years, Westerlund decided to take a break and wait for a decent offer, but the rest was a short one. At the end of March, it was announced that the 60-year-old specialist had moved to Ufa. The Salavat Yulaev job will be the first time in his long career that he has coached outside his homeland, but he seems unfazed by the stark change of environment. The knowing smile suggests wisdom, but he cheerfully admits that he still feels like a youngster. The jovial mood disappears, however, and the steely determination becomes apparent when talk turns to the targets set for the Ufa team next season. The team is currently competing in the Governor of Nizhny Novgorod Region Cup, and has battled its way to being one of the main contenders. Incidentally, it was after the 2015-16 Western Conference Quarter-final series against Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (a 2-4 defeat for Jokerit) that the coach waved 'au revoir' to the KHL. That series was a fiery affair, with sparks flying in all directions, and we began our interview by asking the coach for his musings on that particular episode.
Erkka Westerlund

I haven't forgotten the series with Torpedo, but I don't think about it

- Erkka, you are now back in Nizhny Novgorod, so what memories do you have of that series with Torpedo in 2015-16?
- Yes, it was here that I spent my last match before I pressed the pause button on my career, but frankly, I haven't really thought about it since. It was a memorable series but now I have a new club that I am proud to lead. Salavat is a club with great prospects and potential, and I believe this is the beginning of a new and very interesting journey, so all my thoughts are devoted to the present and the future.
- You had a rest from hockey for a year...
- Yes, and now I feel ready to return to work, and I have many ideas which I would like to try out with Salavat. I did not turn my back on hockey, by the way, and I was always open to suggestions and offers.
Of course, this is not an ideal situation, when one player understands me immediately but another has to turn to the interpreter, but hockey is an international game, and the language barrier should never become an obstacle.
- Did you still follow the KHL, and in particular, the progress of Jokerit?
- Yes, of course. You could say the KHL was my home for two years. I can't say I saw all of Jokerit's games, but nor did I lose all affinity with the club. It was very interesting to follow events in the Championship.
- Looking at your career, you had a longer period away from the game - from 1991 to 1996. Why was that?
- I was young back then, and I wanted to learn something new and get acquainted with the latest ideas. While I was studying, I continued to work with Finland's youth teams. It was a wonderful time.
Erkka Westerlund

I don't think about my age, and I feel like a youngster

- If you had not received the offer from Ufa, would the pause in your career have continued?
- I had many offers, from the KHL and from some Swiss clubs, so I probably would not have been out of work for long, but the offer from Salavat was the most concrete and the most interesting for me, so I did not wait long before accepting it.
- How lengthy were the negotiations with the Ufa club?

- Again, the offer from Ufa grabbed my interest straight away, but I had to sort out some details and formalities. About a month after I provisionally accepted the job offer, we shook hands and signed the contracts.
- You turned 60 n March. How is your physical condition?
- The coach should never lag behind his team, so I just need to keep myself in good shape, recuperate properly, and be fit for work. In short, I feel great.
As a rule, I try not to dwell too much on the result of any particular match. If we get bogged down by over-analyzing individual games, then we won't have time to focus on the most important things. And the most important of all is building a team.
- How many coaches in the KHL are older than you, do you reckon?
- Interesting question! Let me think... From memory, Vladimir Krikunov immediately springs to mind, but I think that's all.
- No, there's also Zinetula Bilyaletdinov.
- Yes, of course! So, I'm in third place. Well, I don't think it's a bad thing when the League has experienced and mature experts. Although, admittedly, I don't think about my age, and I feel like a youngster (laughs).
- Which of your fellow coaches currently working in the KHL do you know the best?
- Of course, first and foremost, the Finnish specialists, Jukka Jalonen, for example. And I can't help but mention that Dmitry Kvartalnov played for Jokerit when I was boss there in the late 1990s, and together we won silver medal in the Championship of Finland. As for Russian coaches, Vladimir Yurzinov had an enormous impact on the Finnish coaching schools, and I have the utmost respect for him. He brought so much skill and knowledge to Finland.
Erkka Westerlund

I feel at home in Ufa

- Have you got settled in Ufa yet?
- Yes, I already feel at home there. I really like the city and the people around me, but most importantly – we have good players from which we can build a team, and with whom we can create something. We're embarking on a big and – I hope – a glorious quest.
- Nonetheless, you are the first foreign head coach in Salavat Yulaev's history. The fans, no matter how friendly they are, will still demand results from you. Are you ready for such pressure?
- I'm so old, old... (laughs) so I don't pay attention to such things. I just concentrate on my daily work. As a rule, I try not to dwell too much on the result of any particular match. If we get bogged down by over-analyzing individual games, then we won't have time to focus on the most important things. And the most important of all is building a team. As for the pressure... If it gets too severe, I might have to resign. I'm not afraid, and there would be no shame in that.
I had many offers, from the KHL and from some Swiss clubs, so I probably, would not have been out of work for long, but the offer from Salavat was the most concrete and the most interesting for me.
- At the Salavat Yulaev - Spartak match there were quite a few Ufa fans, and for the entire match they were chanting at your bench, ”You came to win!” Can we apply this slogan to you?
- Of course! It suits me fine. When the season is on, we want to win. But now, in these friendlies, it is more important for me to get to know the players, and try out different combinations of lines in order to determine the best ones. But I fully understand the fans' sentiments.
- Can you visualize your strongest formation yet?
- So far I only have many pieces which I need to put together to solve the puzzle, so I am trying different combinations until a picture finally emerges. As yet I can't say I'm content with some given combinations, and even the first line, which has remained unchanged, still has room for improvement.

Erkka Westerlund and Nikolai Tsulygin (on left)

We will try to surprise the League in some way

- You have your son, Thomas, on the Salavat Yulaev staff as a video coach. Does he also intend to pursue a career in coaching?
- Yes, he wants to follow in my footsteps and learn the trade. We already worked together for two years, as Tomas assisted me at Jokerit, and now we have moved to Ufa. Every coach needs his own team, comprising people with whom he has built an understanding. I need people I know and trust, but at the same time, it is vital that they share my coaching philosophy. I have such a staff, and my son has become a part of it.
- Your staff will have to build a relationship with the team, and there is the language barrier. Do you find it hard to communicate with your players?
- Oh, yes, it's far from easy. Half of the team speaks English and the other half doesn't, and (ex-Anaheim Ducks defenseman) Nikolai Zalygin has been invaluable in this respect, as he passes on my ideas to the players. Of course, this is not the ideal situation, when one player understands me immediately but another has to turn to the interpreter, but hockey is an international game, and the language barrier should never become an obstacle.
- How would you rate Salavat Yulaev's current state of preparedness for the forthcoming season?
- Again, we have great players, so regarding the personnel we are 100% prepared. As for the team play and understanding, I am about 50-60% satisfied, but we have enough time to work on these things. We will try to come up with something new and surprise the League in some way.
Erkka Westerlund

FACTFILE Erkka Westerlund:
Born: 30 March 1957, Pernaja (Finland)
Playing career: JyP HT (Finland) – 1980-81
Coaching career: JyP HT (Finland) – 1981–88; Lukko (Finland) – 1989-91; HIFK (Finland) – 1997-99; Jokerit (Finland) – 1999-2001, 2010-12, 2014-16; Salavat Yulaev - March 2017-present
Honors as coach: Olympic silver and bronze medalist; World Championship silver (twice) and bronze medalist; European U18 Championship gold medalist, World U20 Championship bronze (twice); SM-Liiga champion and silver medalist.

Pre-season is building up, and Monday’s Russia-Canada battle in Sochi is attracting attention. But the Sochi Hockey Open also gave a chance for young sledge hockey players to join a masterclass – and show some of the KHL’s stars how it’s done. Elsewhere, Linus Omark added another flamboyant penalty shot to his highlight reel in Nizhny Novgorod, and two newly-appointed coaches talked about their latest missions.

Sochi Hockey Open – advantage Russia?

The first Russia vs Canada clash of the season is due in Sochi on Monday evening (1800, local time) as part of the Sochi Hockey Open. The match-up pits Russia’s ‘B’ roster against an experimental Hockey Canada team as Canadian head coach Willie Desjardins runs the rule over its European-based players ahead of February’s Olympics. So far, the tournament suggests Russia might enjoy greater strength in depth: both national teams have played against host club HC Sochi, but with differing results. Russia powered to a 5-1 victory – inspired by a three-goal show from Lokomotiv trio Alexander Polunin, Pavel Kraskovsky and Yegor Korshkov. Kirill Kaprizov picked up two assists. Canada, meanwhile, went goalless through 60 minutes beside the Black Sea, and needed a deflected overtime goal from Jesse Blacker – recently signed by Kunlun Red Star – to finally beat Konstantin Barulin in the Sochi net. The winner of the Russia-Canada game will face SKA in the tournament’s gold medal game on Wednesday. SKA topped the other group with 4-2 victories over Kunlun and Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
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Team Canada - HC Sochi

A helping hand

Prior to the Sochi Hockey Open, the Bolshoy Dome also staged a sledge-hockey masterclass – and several stars from Team Russia joined in with youngsters from Russia, the USA and the Czech Republic. Sledge hockey was one of the most successful events at the 2014 Winter Paralympics, also held in Sochi, and the excitement around the game has helped inspire a more positive attitude towards opportunities for people with disabilities. Meanwhile, as Russia’s players found, it’s also a demanding sport in its own right.
“When I watched from the sidelines, I didn’t think it looked all that difficult,” said HC Sochi’s Pavel Padakin. “But when I had a go myself I was amazed! When they sat me on a sledge I could hardly even move! Once I got the hang of it, I tried making a pass and fell off right away. These kids are incredible – after I’d skated for half an hour, I was hurting all over.”

All smiles for new boy Markov

Andrei Markov began the week by confirming his move to Ak Bars. The 38-year-old defenseman, who left Montreal after 16 seasons in the NHL, reunited with head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, who took charge of the young Markov at Dynamo Moscow in the late 1990s.
The General admitted that working with his old colleague was a big reason behind his move to Kazan, and added that the years had changed coach Bill. “He smiles a bit more now,” joked Markov in a press conference on his arrival in Russia.
Andrei Markov

Omark’s penalty-shot stunner

Linus Omark has a taste for the flamboyant when presented with a penalty shot, and the Swede was strutting his stuff again this week at a pre-season tournament in Nizhny Novgorod. OK, it wasn’t a high-stakes shot – his Salavat Yulaev team had already won the game 3-0 and the shoot-out was an exhibition affair. But Omark still produced a beauty, reversing down the ice, flicking the puck over the blue line then turning to smash home his shot from between the hash marks. As the tournament goes into its last day, Ak Bars leads the table, but Omark’s Salavat Yulaev and host team Torpedo could both claim top spot with victories in their final games.

Westerlund’s new challenge

Finnish head coach Erkka Westerlund became the first foreigner to step behind the bench at Salavat Yulaev – taking on his first job outside of Finland. It’s a new experience for the 60-year-old, but one that he is relishing, as he told in an exclusive interview last week.
“Oh, I’m an old man, I’m not worried about the pressure,” he joked. “I just focus on my everyday work. I’m not going to focus on the result of any one match, there isn’t time. The main thing is building a team.

“We have an excellent team, the roster is 100% ready. But I’m only maybe 50-60% satisfied with our teamwork, with our interplay. But there’s still time to work on that. We’re looking to come up with something new and surprise the rest of the league.”
Erkka Westerlund

Dwyer settles in Minsk

In Minsk, incoming Dinamo head coach Gordie Dwyer is back in the KHL after working with Medvescak last season. Not for the first time, a foreigner has been impressed with the Belarusian passion for hockey: now he’s hoping to give those fans something to cheer.
“Even when I first came to Minsk with Medvescak, I remember feeling that it would be good to work here some day,” he told “It’s a great set-up here, the city is wonderful, and it turns out that I’m following the path of several players who moved here from Zagreb.”
Dwyer’s Dinamo is set to rely more heavily on local talent, trimming the budget that once brought a roster full of imports to Minsk. That could mean opportunities for the likes of 19-year-old prospect Yegor Sharangovich, the team’s leading scorer in the Minsk Cup.
But there’s still a foreign accent, and the signing of Justin Fontaine – 197 NHL games for the Wild, 68 points there – is a big plus.
“I know that plenty of KHL teams wanted to sign him last year, but he wasn’t available,” said Dwyer. “He’s a powerful forward who can bring creativity to our offense. I think his experience and skills can bring a lot to Dinamo.”
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Gordie Dwyer

In Astana, the fearsome scoring power of Bochenski, Boyd and Dawes have guaranteed goals since 2011 – until now. Brandon Bochenski hung up his skates, Dustin Boyd has joined Dynamo Moscow, and Barys faces the challenge of building a new strike force. The hope is to go further than last season’s second-round playoff exit – something the club has yet to achieve in its KHL career.

Changing faces

Outgoing head coach Eduard Zankovets may have suffered for the failures of the national team, rather than his results in Astana. Barys, despite the shock of losing Andrei Nazarov early in the season, produced a good season. The team came fifth in the Eastern Conference and defeated Traktor in the playoffs before losing out to Metallurg. But coaching Barys goes hand-in-hand with taking charge of Kazakhstan’s national team, and here Zankovets fell short of his targets. Missing out on promotion to the Elite Pool for 2018 when his team was overtaken by Korea, the Belarusian’s deal was not extended beyond the end of the season. Evgeny Koreshkov is the new man, and he’s overseen a busy summer of trading. Ten new faces give the roster a youthful look compared with past seasons, although there’s still deep experience from the likes of Nigel Dawes and Kevin Dallman, the KHL’s longest-serving import on defense. Those two, now naturalized Kazakh citizens and members of the national team’s roster, enjoy legendary status in Astana and will shoulder more responsibility than ever in the coming campaign. Most of the new arrivals have been playing VHL hockey, or learning their trade in the Kazakh Championship, but there are two new imports as well, both from the AHL. Linden Vey, 26, is a creative forward who arrives from Stockton Heat, the Calgary Flames’ farm-club. He top-scored for his team last season, with 55 (15+40) points in 61 games. He also has 138 NHL appearances, making his big-league debut in Los Angeles before two seasons with Vancouver. He’s joined by defenseman Darren Dietz. Now 24, Dietz showed potential as a powerful two-way D-man in his youth, but has struggled to settle in a team since then. A somewhat nomadic spell in the AHL – punctuated by 13 NHL games for the Canadiens – came to an end when he signed up for a move to Astana and a new challenge.
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Nigel Dawes and Kevin Dallman

Seeking All-Stars

Astana is due to host the KHL’s All-Star Week of Hockey in January. In previous seasons, the Barys strike force has played a big part in that event, but now it may be time for a new All-Star to emerge on home ice. Marty St. Pierre, a 33-year-old forward, could be the man to step up and assume some of the goalscoring responsibilities left by Bochenski and Boyd. Another one to watch could be local youngster Dmitry Grents. He only turned 21 in June, but his season included 31 games in the KHL and a call-up to the Kazakh national team. Prolific at youth level, this forward opened his KHL account with two goals and three assists last term. Grents is exactly the kind of young talent that Kazakh hockey needs to develop, both for Barys and for the national team, as the country hopes that the season will be memorable for more than just one week in January.
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Dmitry Grents

KHL - Pre-Season 2017 Round Up - Part 3

The first preseason tournament of 2017 involving KHL clubs, the Minsk Cup, came to an end on Saturday with the final, third-place and fifth-place playoffs.

HC Dynamo Moscow vs. Lokomotiv Yaroslavl: 1-3 (0-1, 1-1, 0-1)

Alexei Kudashov's Lokomotiv claimed the first trophy of the preseason with a typically workmanlike victory over Dynamo. All three of the Railwaymen's games have been close affairs – a 3-1 win over Dinamo Riga, a 3-2 overtime victory over Ugra, and now this 3-1 against the Muscovites – and the past few days have highlighted their strength in depth. No matter that the Petri Kontiola line is not yet firing on all cylinders, the other forwards will step up to do the damage while the defense remains mean.
Dynamo boss Vladimir Vorobyov brought a roster of 30 players to Belarus, so depth is unlikely to feature among his problems, and his team's results in this tournament - a 5-4 overtime win against Yunost and a 6-3 victory over Dinamo Minsk - have given him far more positives than negatives, even if Lokomotiv proved too tough on the day.
The first goal arrived in the 14th minute courtesy of Loko's Russian international forward Yegor Averin, but Dynamo hit back in the first minute of the second period with a goal form former Flames, Predators and Canadiens forward Dustin Boyd. Then it was time for youth to take center stage. Loko regained the lead in the 37th minute with a strike from 21-year-old defenseman Nikita Cherepanov, and the win was put beyond doubt with four minutes remaining by 20-year-old winger Alexander Polunin.

Yunost Minsk vs. Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk: 1-4 (1-1, 0-1, 0-2)

Ugra took the spoils in an intriguing battle for bronze against Yunost Minsk of the Belarusian Extraleague. The locals made a promising start with a goal from the USA's Ryan Walters just three-and-a-half minutes into the game, but just past the six-minute mark Evgeny Skachkov leveled for the Khanty Mansiysk team in a 5-on-3 powerplay. Ugra's go-ahead goal came in the 28th minute from Anton Korolyov, and the bronze medal was made safe by further strikes in the final stanza from Anton Kuryanov and Veli-Matti Savinainen.
HC Ugra

Dinamo Minsk vs. Dinamo Riga: 4-0 (0-0, 3-0, 1-0)

The fifth-place playoff was a battle of the Dinamos and was won in convincing fashion by the men from the Belarusian capital. Despite the winning margin, the game was a tense affair until the deadlock was broken on the 25:30 mark by promising 19-year-old forward Yegor Sharangovich. Further goals were added by Danila Karaban (38:30), Evgeny Lisovets (39.45) and Dmitry Ambrozheichik (57:56).
Dinamo Riga

Admiral vs. South Korea: 5-3 (0-2, 2-1, 3-0)

Meanwhile, on the Far Eastern frontier of the KHL's territory, the men from Vladivostok embarked on their preseason voyage with a match against the national team of South Korea, host of next year's Winter Olympics. “This (match against Admiral) is very important for us in terms of gaining experience. We are playing against a first-class team with first-class players, and this is invaluable for us in our preparations for the Olympics,” - said South Korea head coach Jim Paek before the game.

The match itself turned into a severe test of resolve for Admiral. The Koreans surged into a 3-0 lead thanks to goals from Kim Wonjun after 12 minutes 50 seconds, Cho Minho (16.24), and Shin Hyung Yun (24.42), but Admiral reacted admirably and showed they were not holed below the waterline. Within 90 seconds, Maxim Kazakov (25.58) had reduced the deficit, then further strikes from Pavel Makhanovsky (35.01), a quickfire double from Viktor Alexandrov (43.57 and 47.36), and finally, an insurance goal from Alexander Gorshkov turned a potential humiliation into a stirring 5-3 triumph. The most impressive fightback of the preseason so far.

HC Sochi vs. Metallurg Novokuznetsk: 4-0 (1-0, 1-0, 2-0)

After beginning their preseason in Jekyll-and-Hyde mood, beating Neftekhimik 5-2 but then losing 1-5 to Traktor, no-one could accuse Sergei Zubov's HC Sochi of being predictable. On Saturday, they welcomed Metallurg Novokuznetsk to the shores of the Black Sea and posted a resounding win, scoring four unanswered goals.

Simon Önerud started the rout at 17:40 and a powerplay goal by Alexander Titov doubled the Southerners' lead on 30:30. Two third-period strikes in quick succession – a 5-on-3 powerplay goal from Vadim Shchegolkov (47:09) and a fourth from Yegor Morozov (48:03) – gave the score an emphatic look.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk vs. Vityaz: 5-2 (2-0, 2-1, 1-1)

An intriguing match-up in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, between last season's runner up, Ilya Vorobyov's Metallurg, and last season's surprise package, Valery Belov's Vityaz, who had already beaten Avangard in this year's preseason preparations. As one might have expected, Magnitka's legendary firepower proved decisive. The stand-out stats: a double from Anton Shenfeld and a pair of assists from Sergei Mozyakin.

1-0 Kovar (Mozyakin) 03-02
2-0 Shenfeld 15-52
2-1 Shvets-Rogovoi 20-22
3-1 Shenfeld (Filippi) 21-00
4-1 Kosov (Mozyakin) 39-57 (PPG)
5-1 Schaus 45-48
5-2 Makeyev 57-38

Elsewhere, Avtomobilist were shut out by Dynamo Pardubice of the Czech Republic in a 0-2 loss. The Czechs inflicted back-to-back defeats on Slovan Bratislava the previous week.
In the other all-KHL clash of the day, CSKA kept Sibir off the scoreboard in a convincing 4-0 win.
Sergei Shumakov grabbed the opening goal in the first period, and then came a second-period onslaught in which a double from Roman Lyubimov followed by a goal from Konstantin Okulov put the result beyond doubt before the second interval.
CSKA - HC Sibir

Finally, a sharp upturn in preseason fortunes for Avangard. The Omsk Men, currently at camp in Fussen, Germany, were on the wrong end of a 3-1 triumph by Vityaz last week, but on Saturday they bounced back to claim an impressive 3-2 overtime win over the Italian national team. No doubt Andrei Skabelka will be pleased that his players bounced back to win after allowing the Italians to open the scoring a mere two minutes into the game. Semyon Koshelev and Nikita Lisov scored for the “Hawks” in regulation time, and Dmitry Kugryshev grabbed the late game-winner.

Sunday was a much quieter day on the friendlies front, and there was a hint of Deja Vu as two of the games were rematches from the day before.

Admiral vs. South Korea: 3-2 (1-1, 2-1, 0-0)

The Vladivostok Men and the 2018 Winter Olympic hosts served up an unforgettable 5-3 on Saturday, and while this sequel did not quite match the drama of the original, the two teams still produced a highly entertaining game.
As they did on Saturday, the Koreans started the livelier and raced into an early lead, thanks to Shin Hyungyun's short-handed strike in the 8th minute. Admiral recovered once again, and by the 37th minute goals from Pavel Makhanovsky, Georgy Sergeyenko, and Maxim Kitsyn had Admiral cruising with a 3-1 lead. Just before we reached the second interval, a powerplay goal by Lee Chong Hyun kept the result in doubt, but the Mariners held onto their advantage and celebrated two wins in two days..

CSKA vs. Sibir: 5-2 (2-1, 2-1, 1-0)

In the day's other rematch, CSKA followed up its 4-0 demolition of Sibir with another convincing win, but there was a silver lining for the Novosibirsk Men in that they twice pierced the Army Men's rearguard and found the back of the net.
The Muscovites found themselves 2-0 up in the first ten minutes, thanks to Konstantin Okulov and Sergei Shumakov, but a little over two minutes before the first interval, 21-year-old defenseman Nikolai Demidov scored Sibir's first goal of the 2017 preseason. Okulov completed a double to make the score 3-1 before a powerplay goal on 28:33 by Ivan Vereshchagin kept Sibir in contention. Hopes of a stirring comeback were dashed within 8 seconds, however, when Anton Burdasov restored the Army Men's two-goal advantage, and he added his second and CSKA's fifth late in the final period.

Yunost Minsk vs. Lokomotiv: 1-7 (0-2, 0-2, 1-3)

On Saturday, Lokomotiv won the first ever Minsk Cup, and so, understandably, the Railwaymen fielded a much-changed line-up for this Sunday afternoon encounter against Yunost Minsk. Yesterday, many pundits talked of Lokomotiv's strength in depth, but nothing illustrated this more eloquently than the “weakened” Yaroslavl team nonetheless inflicting a painful 7-1 hammering on the hosts. Kirill Kapustin scored four times, Artyom Ilyenko grabbed a double, and Danil Yurtaikin completed the rout in the dying minutes. Finally, Kunlun Red Star continued its impressive form with a 3-0 defeat of Severstal.

Markov heading home
Vastly experienced defenseman Andrei Markov looks set to be one of the trades of the summer after announcing his intention to return to Russia and play KHL hockey this season. Markov, 38, failed to agree an extension to his 16 years with the Canadiens, and is expected to confirm a contract with a Russian team soon. The move, if confirmed, would also enable Markov to play for Russia at next year’s Olympics. He has featured at three previous Games, in Torino, Vancouver and Sochi, as well as last season’s World Cup of Hockey. His career, dominated by 990 regular season games in the NHL, also features a brief spell of KHL action: in the 2013-14 lock-out season, Markov played 21 games for Vityaz, contributing one goal and seven assists as he regained fitness following an injury.
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Andrei Markov

Zaripov prepares appeal

Danis Zaripov, who was suspended for two years after a failed drug test, is seeking an appeal against the decision. In a statement reported in the Sovietsky Sport newspaper, the forward insisted that he had never been involved in any doping and added that he was surprised to learn about his ban – which stems from a test taken in February 2017 – via the media. While Zaripov and his club, Ak Bars, are exploring legal avenues to challenge the verdict, the player also admitted that he would consider a move to the NHL. “I will investigate all possible ways out of this situation,” he told the newspaper. “Talks with the NHL are already underway, but truthfully, I would rather not go down that path. I want to continue my career here in Russia.”
Although Zaripov’s ban has been rubber-stamped by the International Ice Hockey Federation, he would still be able to play in the NHL. The IIHF’s mandate does not run in the NHL and thus the league is under no obligation to uphold any sanction. However, Zaripov would still be unable to play international hockey during the two-year period. Two other players, Derek Smith, a Canadian defenseman playing with Medvescak last season, and Admiral’s Andrei Konev also received bans after failing drug tests.
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Danis Zaripov

First trophy goes to Loko

The Minsk Cup was the first pre-season tournament to be completed – and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl took the silverware in Belarus. The Railwaymen topped their three-team group ahead of Ugra and Dinamo Riga before downing Dynamo 3-1 in the final. Yegor Averin gave Loko a first-period lead and despite a Dustin Boyd equalizer, Nikita Cherepanov and Alexander Polunin sealed the victory. Ugra took third place with a 4-1 victory over Yunost Minsk, host Dinamo – under the guidance of new head coach Gordie Dwyer – defeated Dinamo Riga to claim fifth. Korea’s Olympic preparations continued with two practice games against Admiral Vladivostok – and the KHL team won both of them. On Saturday, Admiral took a 5-3 verdict, then 24 hours later goalie Maxim Tretiak claimed the win by a 3-2 margin. The coming weekend sees more Olympic preparations as Team Canada enters the pre-season tournament in Sochi.
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Lokomotiv earned trophy

Nordic arrivals

Two Scandinavian forwards were part of the most interesting trades of the week, with one familiar face and one KHL newcomer on the move.
Andre Petersson, well known for his scoring prowess at HC Sochi, has traded the Black Sea for Siberia and contract with Avangard. The Swede, now 26, has been a consistent producer in his three seasons with Sochi, totalling 113 points in 146 games. That could easily have been higher were it not for injuries last season that stalled his progress and – arguably – cost the Southern team a place in the playoffs. The newcomer is Nicklas Jensen, a 24-year-old Dane, who joins his compatriots Peter Regin, Oliver Lauridsen and Jesper Jensen at Jokerit. He’s been on the bubble in North America since leaving Herning Blue Fox in 2010 and has six points from 31 NHL games in Vancouver and New York. Russian fans may have seen him in action in 2016 at the World Championship: he scored five goals and two assists in eight games as the Danes made a rare appearance in the quarter-finals.
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Andre Petersson

There was just the one preseason practice match involving KHL teams on Monday, but it was a mouth-watering clash between Jokerit and SKA.
Oleg Znarok's Gagarin Cup holders began their preseason a lot later than many other sides, some of whom have two or three games under their belts already, but this is understandable given the later end to SKA's season.
The men from Russia's northern capital are at camp in Finland, and their first practice match was against Jokerit of the Finnish capital. New faces include Sergei Kalinin and Vladislav Gavrikov, while high-profile departures include Evgeny Dadonov and Vadim Shipachyov, both of whom are to continue their careers across the Atlantic. As for the Helsinki Men, the “Jokers” first preseason outing was no laughing matter: a 2-3 defeat at the hands of Kunlun Red Star.
Perhaps because of their extended summer break, or perhaps just because of good hockey from Jokerit, the Petersburg Men found it tough in the early stages, and Viktor Tikhonov even contrived to earn a 5+20 minute penalty. The Finns took full advantage and opened the scoring on six minutes via Eeli Tolvanen, but the Jokers' joy was to be short-lived. In the 14th minute, Sergei Shirokov grabbed SKA's first goal of the preseason, again in powerplay, and as the game approached the halfway stage Nikita Gusev put the visitors in front.
Shirokov turned provider to set up Jarno Koskiranta to make it 3-1 with just over four minutes of the second period remaining, and that is the way things stayed until Alexander Barabanov's empty netter in the final minute. Shirokov assisted on that fourth goal, thus earning 3 points in the match.

06.02 – Eeli Tolvanen (Olli Palola, PPG), 1:0
13.44 – Sergei Shirokov (Mikko Koskinen, Artyom Zub, PPG), 1:1
27.03 – Nikita Gusev (Viktor Tikhonov, Maxim Karpov), 1:2
35.38 – Jarno Koskiranta (Sergei Shirokov), 1:3
59.20 – Alexander Barabanov (Sergei Shirokov, empty net), 1:4

Goaltenders: Karri Ramo (Ryan Zapolski) – Mikko Koskinen


Jokerit is gearing up for its 50th anniversary – and after a summer rebuild, hopes in Helsinki are high. What can Jukka Jalonen’s team bring to the party this season?

Stability at the top

Jokerit likes to give its coaches time to build a team. Last season’s disappointments – the Finns snuck into eighth place in the Western Conference amid inconsistent form, and crashed out in the first round of the playoffs – might have spelled the end for coaches at many clubs. But in Helsinki, the management has confidence in Jalonen’s ability to turn the situation around. The head coach’s resume justifies that faith: he’s won trophies for club and country, including World Championship gold in 2011 and Olympic bronze in 2010. He also secured hardware at HPK, leading the Hameenlinna club to a regular season title in 2003 and lifting its only Canada Bowl in 2006. He also took SKA to a Conference Final, and topped the regular season table, during a previous spell in the KHL, affirming his credentials for the Jokerit gig.

Ramo returns

Avangard fans will remember Karri Ramo. The goalie spent four years in Omsk, getting all the way to the Gagarin Cup final in 2012, before moving to the Calgary Flames. His spell in Siberia was popular – twice, he was voted on to the Eastern Conference All-Star Team – but featured a few gaffes, most notably allowing a hopeful clearance from Andrei Kuteikin to beat him after it scuttled up the ice from in front of the opposition’s net. His time in Canada went fairly well until a serious knee injury in February 2016 ended his season. Rehabilitation was slow: a brief try-out with the Leafs brought three games for the Marlies but not contract; a return to Finland saw him play seven times for the Pelicans and prove his fitness, earning his Jokerit call-up.
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The Danish connection

Jokerit’s roster, as always, is dominated by Finnish talent. But two Danish players could be the key to sparking a successful offense this season. Peter Regin is a familiar face: team captain, leading scorer last season with 48 (18+30) points, the 31-year-old is an experienced figure for club and country. If he maintains his form, Jokerit will always pose a goal threat. Alongside him comes compatriot Niklas Jensen. He’s just 24, returning to Europe after spell in North America spent mostly in the AHL. Jensen has the look of a player on the brink of a breakout season: when he last played in Russia, at the 2016 World Championship, he scored heavily to help Denmark reach the quarter-finals for only the second time in its history. Freed of the stress of life ‘on the bubble’ around the NHL, this could be his time to shine.

Defensive changes

The major surgery this summer has come on defense. Aside from Ramo’s arrival as a new, potential first-choice, goalie, the club has also shuffled its pack of blue-liners. Sami Lepisto (ex-Salavat Yulaev) and Tommi Kivisto (ex-Avtomobilist) bring a wealth of KHL experience; Lepisto will also be hoping for a crack at a third Olympic Games. Two North American D-men add some scoring power to the equation, with Mike Lundin, (96 points in three season for Barys) and Matt Gilroy (39 points last year in a struggling Spartak team) both likely to form a key component of the Jokerit power play.

02_20161005_JOK_DYN_BAB 22.jpg


Andrei Markov’s high-profile move to Ak Bars brings one of Russia’s most experienced players back to the KHL – but, at the age of 38, what will he offer the Kazan team in the coming season?

The youthful veteran

The first, and most notable, thing about the Markov trade is that this isn’t merely a player at the end of his career looking for one last signing-on fee. Although Markov is now in his late 30s, and brings 16 years of NHL experience, there was no evidence that his powers were in decline last season in Montreal. He suited up 62 times for the Canadiens, producing 36 points and averaging almost 16:30 on the ice each night. Those aren’t the numbers of a player winding down; they’re consistent with his last few years of activity for the Habs. And this in a league where lack of skating speed can be ruthlessly exposed. It suggests that this is a player who can eat the minutes of a younger man.
Bottom line, Markov’s deep hockey sense and playmaking are still very much at an elite level while his fitness remains intact. That combination promises to make him an asset to any defensive unit.

Bridging the gap

After losing out in the 2015 Gagarin Cup final, Ak Bars began a restructuring of the team. Long-serving stalwarts, guys like Ilya Nikulin, Evgeny Medvedev, Konstantin Korneyev and Konstantin Koltsov, moved on to leave a roster rich in talent but lacking in big-game experience. Ak Bars looked a bit green, and not just because of their jerseys. This summer has brought a clear attempt to remedy that and bring in a ‘been there, done that’ player. Danis Zaripov was due to provide that big-game know-how, but circumstances left that plan in tatters. Markov, despite fulfilling a very different role on the ice, brings the same level of knowledge to the locker room. When the season gets to the business end, when playoff passions rage, having a calming, stabilizing presence on the roster can be the difference between victory and defeat.

The Bilyaletdinov factor

Some were surprised that Markov, a product of the Voskresensk school and a player whose entire career in Russian hockey was played in and around Moscow, opted for a move to Tatarstan. Even his lock-out posting in 2012-13 took him to Vityaz, rather than one of the powerhouses of the East. The Eastern Conference is unfamiliar territory for him. But Zinetula Bilyaletdinov is anything but unfamiliar. Coach Bill brought a young Markov to Dynamo Moscow in 1998. During those two seasons, which brought silver then gold in the Russian Super League, he nurtured the defenseman’s talents. And, when Markov was unveiled in Kazan earlier this week, he highlighted the importance of reuniting with his old mentor.
“The fact that I played for Zinetula Bilyaletdinov at Dynamo, before I even went to the NHL, played a significant part [in deciding to sign for Ak Bars],” Markov said. “I know what he expects of his players, and I’m really glad that we’ll be working together again. You could say that it’s thank to him that I became the player I am.”

A new challenge

The last time Markov worked with Bilyaletdinov was on Russia’s 2014 Olympic roster. With the PyeongChang games looming on the horizon, many anticipate that the D-man will be a lock for Oleg Znarok’s team in Korea. Markov’s international opportunities have been limited during his time in Canada – his last World Championship engagement was back in 2008 – but that didn’t keep him out of the World Cup of Hockey a year ago. His huge experience means he can offer plenty at Olympic level, especially in a tournament set to be bereft of NHL players. But the man himself is focused, first and foremost, on adapting to the Russian game – and its bigger ice – again, recognizing that the KHL presents a significant and ever-improving challenge of its own.
“We’re seeing more and more players from North America come into the KHL,” he said. “The quality is increasing and it’s going to be an interesting season.  It’s possible that I’ll need a bit of time to get used to the rinks here, but, having said that, I grew up playing on them.

“As for the Olympics, it’s too early to talk about going to Korea. I need to earn my place. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you prove that the team needs you, you’ll go.”

Nizhny Novgorod Governor’s Cup
Dates: 1 - 7 August
Participants: Torpedo (Nizhny Novgorod), Avtomobilist (Yekaterinburg), Ak Bars (Kazan), Salavat Yulaev (Ufa), Metallurg (Novokuznetsk), and Spartak (Moscow).
Tuesday saw the start of the traditional preseason tournament, Nizhny Novgorod Governor’s Cup , which this year features Torpedo (Nizhny Novgorod), Avtomobilist (Yekaterinburg), Ak Bars (Kazan), Salavat Yulaev (Ufa), Metallurg (Novokuznetsk), and Spartak (Moscow), and runs for six days, finishing on Monday,
Ak Bars Kazan vs. Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg- 4-3 (1-1, 2-1, 0-1, 1-0)
The opening match was between Zinetula Bilyaletdinov's Ak Bars and Vladimir Krikunov's Avtomobilist, and both sides produced a close and entertaining contest. Preseason rosters can often take on a strange appearance, as coaches try to find the ideal slots for their new arrivals, but Avtomobilist was forced into further changes when thieves broke into the locker room and made off with some of the players jerseys, sticks and other kit, but the Yekaterinburg Men coped admirably and surged into a 3rd-minute lead with a goal in powerplay from Evgeny Chesalin. Soon the tables were turned, the Kazan Men had the man advantage, and they leveled before the five-minute mark through Anton Lander. Honors remained even until the second period, when Ak Bars scored twice in rapid succession, through a quickfire double from Alexander Svitov (23.14) and a powerplay goal by Jiri Sekac (25.57) to take a 3-1 lead, but then came another twist in the plot: Francis Pare's short-handed goal in the 36th minute brought Avto back within touching distance of parity, and with just seven minutes remaining, the powerplay unit ruthlessly punished another Ak Bars penalty when Kirill Lyamin's almighty strike from distance beat goalie Timur Bilyalov. This brought the game to overtime, through which the teams remained deadlocked for 4 minutes and 52 seconds. Last season, any sentence with “killer goal,” “dying seconds,” and “ruthless finishing,” would usually describe the exploits of Ak Bars danger man Justin Azevedo, and it was he who beat Yekaterinburg goalie Jakub Kovar to give the Kazan Men a victorious start to the tournament.
Spartak Moscow vs. Metallurg Novokuznetsk: 5-1 (1-0, 3-1, 1-0).
The other two games were a little more one-sided Vadim Yepanchintsev's Spartak posted an impressive win over Novokuznetsk...

1-0 Viktor Bobrov (Alexander Komaristy, 12.26),
2-0 Igor Mirnov (26.10),
2-1 Korostin (Skutar, 28.47),
3-1 Vladislav Provolnev (Nikita Li, 29.07),
4-1 Vyacheslav Leshchenko (Alexei Pepelyayev, 36.18),
5-1 Ben Maxwell (Igor Mirnov, 52.11, PPG).

Goaltenders: Denis Sinyagin – Ivan Kasutin.
Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod vs. Salavat Yulaev Ufa 0-3 (0-1, 0-0, 0-2)
...and Torpedo boss Peteris Skudra was given plenty of food for thought after the hosts were shut out by the the Ufa Men under new head coach Erkka Westerlund.

0-1 Maxim Goncharov (Ilya Zubov, 3.53, PPG),
0-2 Teemu Hartikainen (Philip Larsen, 47.21, PPG),
0-3 Denis Kulyash (58.09, SHG, empty net).

Goaltenders: Stanislav Galimov – Ben Scrivens

Preseason friendlies:

Vityaz Moscow Region vs. Italy: 5-0 (1-0, 4-0, 0-0)
Vityaz Moscow Region Head coach Valery Belov 's men from Moscow Region attracted plaudits from far and wide with their surge into the playoffs last season, and in Brixen, Italy, they continued their impressive summer form with a resounding triumph over the Italian national team.

1-0 Dmitry Semin (Roman Horak, Maxim Afinogenov),
2-0 Alexei Makeyev (Alexei Semyonov, Vojtech Mozik),
3-0 Maxim Afinogenov,
4-0 Alexei Kopeikin (Niclas Burstrom, Dmitry Semin),
5-0 Roman Horak (Alexei Kopeikin, Alexander Pankov).

Lada Togliatti vs. SKA-Neva (Saint Petersburg): 3-1 (0-1, 2-0, 1-0)
Finally, in Finland, Artis Abols's Lada fought back from a goal down to defeat VHL side SKA Neva
Lada's goals:
1-1 Georgy Belousov, 2-1 Kristaps Sotnieks, 3-1 Semyon Valuisky.

KHL - Season 4 Review

The 2011-12 season will always be remembered with great sadness by everyone in the hockey world. The devastating events of September 7 in Yaroslavl cast a shadow over the entire season. The plane crash that wiped out Lokomotiv’s team reverberated throughout the sporting world and the tragic accident dominated the year’s subsequent play.

Hockey’s darkest day

On September 7, just as the Opening Cup game was getting underway in Ufa, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl was due to fly to Minsk. The team never arrived; their plane crashed on take-off, killing 44 of the 45 people on board. The hockey world lost 26 players and 11 coaches and staff members. Tributes poured in from all over the sporting world. IIHF President Rene Fasel described it as “the darkest day in the history of our sport”. Manchester United Football Club offered a statement in sympathy and support, recalling its own air disaster in Munich in 1958. In Minsk, where Lokomotiv was due to play on September 8, Dinamo staged a requiem mass at the arena. Fans in Yaroslavl and beyond left spontaneous tributes at arenas. Similar tributes appeared elsewhere in the world, reflecting a multi-national roster with connections right across Russia, Europe and North America. The national hockey federations of Slovakia, Germany, Latvia and the Czech Republic retired the numbers of their international players lost in the disaster. Several NHL teams also paid tribute, culminating in the October 13 game between the Capitals and the Penguins which was dedicated to Lokomotiv and became a fundraiser for the families of the players and staff who died. The opening days of the KHL schedule were postponed; to this day, September 7 is left blank in the league’s schedules in tribute to those who died. Lokomotiv withdrew from the league for the season, competing in the Youth Hockey League and, later, entering a team in the second-tier VHL. Play started again on September 12 in somber mood; games were preceded by a minute’s silence and took place without music or entertainment.
The victims of the disaster were:
Vitaly Anikeyenko,
Yury Bakhvalov,
Mikhail Balandin,
Alexander Belyayev,
Gennady Churilov,
Pavol Demitra,
Robert Dietrich,
Alexander Galimov,
Marat Kalimulin,
Alexander Kalyanin,
Alexander Karpotsev,
Andrei Kiriyukhin,
Igor Korolev,
Nikita Klyukin,
Nikolai Krivonosov,
Evgeny Kunov,
Vyacheslav Kuznetsov,
Stefan Liv,
Brad McCrimmon,
Jan Marek,
Sergei Ostapchuk,
Vladimir Piskunov,
Karel Rachunek,
Ruslan Salei,
Maxim Shuvalov,
Evgeny Sidorov,
Karlis Skrastins,
Pavel Snuritsyn,
Daniil Sobchenko,
Ivan Tkachenko,
Pavel Trakhanov,
Yury Urychev,
Josef Vasicek,
Alexander Vasyunov,
Alexander Vyukhin,
Artyom Yarchuk,
Andrei Zimin.
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New frontiers

Prior to the Yaroslavl tragedy, there had been great optimism for the new campaign. The addition of Lev Poprad to the KHL marked a new boundary for the league, as it welcomed its first team from outside the former USSR. Lev, a newly-created club, had originally been invited to compete in the 2010-11 season, but was unable to complete all the necessary paperwork in time to compete. After resolving that problem, the team was ready to bring KHL hockey to the Tatras. The new team found life tough to start with: an opening 2-4 loss at home to Metallurg Magnitogorsk set the tone for a hard campaign. It took six games to record a victory – 2-0 at Dinamo Riga – and the opening home win came on September 30, 4-1 against Dynamo Moscow. Despite some talented players on the roster, notably Ladislav Nagy, Lubos Bartecko, Tomas Netik and Karel Pilar, the team never found its formed and fell short of a playoff spot.
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Lev Poprad

On the ice

This was the season when Oleg Znarok announced himself as a top coach. He’d already raised eyebrows by taking MVD to the Gagarin Cup final, but now, at Dynamo Moscow, he won his first Gagarin Cup. The Dynamo team was not a star-studded affair. None of its players featured among the KHL’s top scorers in the regular season, and of the 16 teams that made the playoffs, nine scored more than Dynamo. But the roster was a rugged, hard-to-beat group that epitomized its coach’s own competitive qualities. If the regular season was somewhat muted, Dynamo ignited in the playoffs. The late-season acquisition of Mikhail Anisin from Vityaz was the catalyst: he potted 14 post-season goals – a KHL record – to lead a sweep of Dinamo Minsk and a 4-2 series win over Torpedo. Then came a Conference Final showdown with SKA. Dynamo travelled to Petersburg as the outsider, but rallied from 2-4 down to win the opening game in overtime. There was controversy: SKA had a potentially game-winning goal ruled out shortly before Denis Mosalyov completed his hat-trick to complete the win. That game put the momentum firmly in the Blue-and-Whites’ favour, and the series ended in an unexpected sweep, culminating in a spectacular 6-1 win at Luzhniki. In the East, there was a new face on the playoff block: Amur Khabarovsk made it to post season for the first – and so far only – time in its KHL history under the guidance of Hannu Jortika. Jakub Petruzalek and Petr Vrana were the scoring stars as the Far East team enjoyed its best campaign for years. There was also a strong showing from Traktor, inspired by a young Evgeny Kuznetsov, and backstopped by the impressive Mike Garnett, topped the regular season table. The Chelyabinsk team advanced to the Conference Final, beating Ak Bars along the way and coming 17 seconds short of setting a new record for the longest ever KHL clash, before losing out to Avangard. The Gagarin Cup final pitted the two best defenses in the league against one another. Alexander Yeryomenko and Karri Ramo had been in fine form between the piping, and the opening games were tight affairs. The teams traded 2-1 wins in Omsk, before Avangard came to Moscow and edged a 1-0 verdict before squeaking an overtime victory. Then came the bombshell. Anton Belov, a key component of Avangard’s defense, was suspended after failing a drug test. Dynamo’s offense took advantage, claiming a 3-2 victory in Siberia then blasting five goals past Ramo in Moscow. That set up a game seven decider in Omsk, and Yeryomenko’s shut-out, plus a third-period goal for Jakub Klepis, earned Dynamo, and Znarok, a first Gagarin Cup triumph.
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KHL - Season 3 Review

Continuing our review of the KHL’s nine previous campaigns, we reach the third season. More big names come over from the NHL and – for the first time in decades – teams from North America cross the Atlantic to play in Russia and Latvia. Ak Bars finally loses a playoff series, and Vyacheslav Bykov takes advantage.

Two out, one in

The League’s membership changed slightly. Problems with Lada Tolyatti’s arena and finances pushed the team into the second-tier VHL, where it remains until 2015. The previous year’s Gagarin Cup finalist, MVD, merged with Dynamo Moscow and played under the Dynamo name.Three new teams – Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk, Lev Poprad and Budivelnyk Kiev – were accepted into the league, but in the event only Ugra was able to take its place.
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HC Ugra

Top trades

Ambitious SKA St. Petersburg pushed the boat out, bringing two NHL stars back to Russia. Forward Maxim Afinogenov and defenseman Denis Grebeshkov both crossed the Atlantic amid great fanfare. The pair had represented Russia at the 2010 Olympics, and played a role in the country’s recent World Championship victories. Afinogenov even became the face of the season’s marketing campaign for one of the KHL’s biggest sponsors, Megafon. Other star arrivals that summer included Dominik Hasek, the hero of the Czechs 1998 Olympic gold, who joined Spartak. Slovakia’s inspirational captain Pavol Demitra swapped Vancouver for Yaroslavl, while prolific Czech forward Roman Cervenka joined Avangard and promptly fired his way to the top of the regular season goalscoring charts.
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Dominik Hasek

NHL duels and a Swiss rendez-vous

For the first time in the KHL era, the NHL sent teams to the former USSR to take on local opposition. Two exhibition games were staged, first in St. Petersburg on October 4, where SKA beat the Carolina Hurricanes 5-3, then in Riga two days later, where the Phoenix Coyotes beat Dinamo 3-1. The games rekindled memories of the great NHL-USSR Super Series confrontations of old, last seen in 1991 when CSKA and Dynamo Moscow headed to North America. In the intervening years, the only Trans-Atlantic match-up took place in October 2008, when the New York Rangers beat Metallurg Magnitogorsk 4-3 in Berne.
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Phoenix Coyotes

The season also saw the first KHL game take place in Western Europe. SKA and Spartak were both involved in the Spengler Cup in Davos in late December, and arranged to play their regular season meeting in the Swiss resort during the build-up to the competition.

On the ice

The Opening Cup went to Dynamo, who stepped in to replace MVD in the curtain-raiser. Following the merger between Dynamo and MVD, Oleg Znarok was behind the bench in Kazan once again and he got a measure of revenge for his Gagarin Cup defeat by winning 3-1 over Ak Bars. The new-look Dynamo, despite shedding many of its star names, went on to have a good regular season and eventually finished second in the Western Conference. But the regular season title went to Avangard, with Czech duo Roman Cervenka and Jaromir Jagr scoring freely while Finnish goalie Karri Ramo celebrated 33 wins. Free-scoring Salavat Yulaev topped the goal charts, firing an impressive 210 markers in 54 games. Alexander Radulov’s 20+60=80 points would remain a KHL record until 2017, strike partner Patrick Thoresen was second on the scoring charts with 65. In the playoffs, the Western Conference proved full of surprises. Dynamo fell at the first hurdle, beaten by a Dinamo Riga roster full of players familiar to Znarok from his role as Latvia’s head coach. Then, in round two, Atlant recovered from 1-3 in the series to shock SKA and progress to a showdown with Lokomotiv. The Moscow Region team, boasting the talents of Sergei Mozyakin and Jan Marek up front, won the first three games to take control of the series, and was just five seconds away from wrapping it up in five before losing in overtime to an Ivan Tkachenko goal. Game six left no doubt: Atlant won 8-2, Oleg Petrov scored a hat-trick, and for the second season running, an unheralded team from the outskirts of Moscow was heading to the grand final. Atlant’s opponent would be Salavat Yulaev. Vyacheslav Bykov’s team continued to score freely in the playoffs and cut down on the defensive generosity that undermined some of its regular-season play. That proved crucial in the second round, as Ak Bars lost a playoff series for the first time in KHL history. Salavat shut-out the men from Kazan once, and twice more restricted them to a solitary goal en route to a 4-1 series win. Another big defensive performance earned a 1-0 victory in game seven of the Eastern Conference final, edging out Magnitka to set up Bykov’s first Gagarin Cup final. The clash was short-lived: Salavat scored after 60 seconds of game one and that rather set the tone for the contest. Atlant battled hard, taking that opener to overtime, but could not find a way to get ahead of the men in green. Salavat Yulaev won the series in five; to this day, no team has ever managed a Gagarin Cup final sweep.
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Salavat Ulaev