Tuesday, 25 July 2017

KHL - Pre Season Round Up Part 1

Enroth arrives, Anisin returns
Jhonas Enroth, an Olympic silver medallist with Sweden in Sochi, is all set to spend this Olympic season in the KHL. The goalie several seasons in the NHL, mostly at Buffalo but also in a stint as Jonathan Quick’s back-up in LA and short spells in Dallas and Toronto. Now 29, his greatest international success came not in Sochi but in his home town of Stockholm, where he backstopped Sweden to World Championship glory in 2013. That earned him a trip to the Olympics, but he did not make it onto the ice in Sochi as Henrik Lundqvist played the entire tournament for the Tre Kronor.
Mikhail Anisin, whose goal rush in the 2012 playoffs fired Dynamo Moscow to Gagarin Cup glory, is back with the Blue-and-Whites. Anisin, now 29, had 14 goals and 19 points from 21 games in Dynamo’s title run, but struggled to live up to his potential after that. Leaving Dynamo midway through the following season, he had spells at Severstal, Neftekhimik, Donbass, Sochi and Metallurg Novokuznetsk before finishing last season in the VHL at Saryarka Karaganda of Kazakhstan. Now he will be hoping that a return to the scene of his greatest achievements can help him maximize his undoubted abilities on a regular basis.
There was also confirmation that Ilya Kovalchuk was staying at SKA and news that 2014 Gagarin Cup winner Francis Pare was heading to Avtomobilist.

Fixtures unveiled

With little over a month to go until the Opening Cup curtain-raiser, the KHL officially unveiled the 2017-18 fixtures last week.
The season opens with that SKA-CSKA showdown on Aug. 21 in St. Petersburg, and the regular season action continues in relentless fashion from then on. Despite the demands of an Olympic year, the KHL has managed to squeeze in 145 game days out of a possible 193, ensuring that the 27 teams in the 10th season of competition will complete their 56-game regular season programs by March 1.
Dates to look out for in the opening month of the season include:
Aug. 22: two big coaching debuts as Mike Keenan’s Kunlun Red Star and Erkka Westerlund’s Salavat Yulaev start their seasons. Kunlun travels to Sochi while Salavat entertains Admiral;
Aug. 25: the first Moscow derby of the season sees Dynamo entertain CSKA. It’s likely to be a big night for Mat Robinson, the D-man who moved from the Blue-and-Whites to the Army Men over the summer;
Sep. 7: as usual, Russian hockey pauses to remember the victims of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl air disaster of Sep. 7, 2011;
Sep. 9: Jokerit travels to Beijing for the first game since the Finnish team agreed to help promote hockey in China;
Sep. 15: SKA entertains Metallurg Magnitogorsk in a re-run of last year’s Gagarin Cup Final.
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Belgibayev opens the scoring

Barys Astana was the first team to get out on the ice this year, beginning its pre-season program with a friendly against Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk. Incoming head coach Evgeny Koreshkov took the opportunity to assess the depth of his organization, calling on several players from the youth team and farm club; the experienced Marty St. Pierre and Nigel Dawes are on their way back to Kazakhstan, negotiations with Kevin Dallman continue.
Against that backdrop, a youthful Barys team suffered a 2-6 reverse against last season’s VHL Bratin Cup finalists, but Nursultan Belgibayev claimed the honor of the first goal by a KHL player in the 2017-18 campaign. Koreshkov felt that the early work-out delivered some positives, but added that mid-July was far too soon to reach any conclusions about the shape of his team this season.
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FRIDAY 14/07 Strictly, the first practice match involving a KHL club took place during the previous week, in Kazakhstan, when Torpedo of Ust-Kamenogorsk hosted Barys. The hosts beat the men from the capital 6-2, but we should note that most of the Astana players were from the Snow Leopards youth team or the Nomad farm club.


Four days later, and around 2,500 miles to the West, we had our first all-KHL clash of the preseason, when the Pajulahti Sports Complex in Finland played host to a meeting between Traktor and Neftekhimik. Chelyabinsk boss Anvar Gatiyatulin fielded three full lines of youngsters, with the purpose, in his own words, of “giving them a taste of hockey at KHL level.”
The plan seemed a good one when home-grown forward Artyom Penkovsky fired Traktor ahead, but Neftekhimik, captained by former Chelyabinsk defenseman Oleg Piganovich, hit back with goals from Hanzl, Volgin, Sergeyev, Ogurtsov and Rau to seal an impressive 5-1 win for Andrei Nazarov’s men, who surely deserve the Performance of the Week title.
Meanwhile, in Central Europe, the new-look Kunlun Red Star team took a long bus journey from its camp in Switzerland to play a friendly in the Austrian town of Sankt Pölten, against a team assembled from players plying their trade in the local and German leagues, and boasting the grand title of Stars of Lower Austria. It was Mike Keenan’s Red Stars who were in the ascendancy, however, as a double from Rudi Ying, plus additional goals from Yuen, Jaw, Wong, Bellemore, Werek and Lyuduchin, gave the Chinese team an emphatic 8-0 victory.
Rudy Ying


Slovan head coach Milos Riha was in his native Czech Republic to watch his Bratislava Boys taken on local side Dynamo Pardubice in the first of two games on successive days. It was not an entirely joyful homecoming for the coach, who saw his team go into the first interval trailing 0-1 and then endured a second period in which neither side could trouble the scoreboard operator further. Slovan’s spirits were lifted in the third period with a goal from Boris Sadecky, but the optimism was short-lived and the home side triumphed 2-1 via the shootout.


Following Wednesday’s loss, the scene was set for “Riha’s Revenge” and similar post-rematch headlines, but unfortunately for the Slovaks, the previous day’s defeat was repeated and not avenged. The final score: Dynamo Pardubice 5-2 Slovan Bratislava.
There was some consolation for Milos Riha in the fact that he sent on an experimental side, and goals from Sloboda (to make the score 1-2) and Hrnka(2-3) kept the team in contention going into the second interval, but the Eagles allowed two unanswered goals in the final stanza to give the coach plenty on which to ponder.
It was a happier day for new Ugra head coach Igor Zakharkin in Belarus, as he saw his team fight back to overcome a two-goal deficit and seal a thrilling win over Neman Grodno via the shootout.
The Khanty-Mansiysk boss, who endured a turbulent 2016-17 season at Salavat Yulaev and would no doubt wish for as smooth a preseason as possible, saw his new team take a 7th-minute lead with a powerplay goal from Ivan Lekomtsev, but the Belarusians replied with three goals – two short-handed and one in powerplay – in a lively second period. However, Ugra’s stirring fightback began within 30 seconds of going 1-3 down.  Konstantin Panov halved the deficit, Vitaly Shulakov leveled the score with 10 minutes of regulation remaining, and Andrei Ankudinov clinched a 4-3 win in the shootout.
After the game, Igor Zakharkin was full of praise for his players, but sounded a note of caution:
“What pleased me most about the team today was the movement and the desire, and I could see that some of the tactical work we’ve been doing over the last two weeks was put to good use on the ice. However, I did not like the fact that we spurned a lot of the scoring chances we created. When you play in the KHL, if you don’t convert such chances into goals, you get punished.”
There were no games on Friday, but the preseason campaign picks up pace next week with no fewer than 18 matches scheduled over the coming seven days.

SATURDAY 22/07 HC SochiNeftekhimik – 5-2
Four days after opening the preseason with a resounding 5-1 win over Traktor, Andrei Nazarov‘s Neftekhimik found itself on the receiving end of a similar beating from HC Sochi at the Pajulahti Sports Complex in Finland.
Both these clubs had a disappointing 2016-17, and as a result, both have made significant changes to the roster over the summer. However, the men from the Black Sea went one step further and brought in a new head coach, and the man chosen to lead the Olympic City team is an Olympic gold medalist, legendary defenseman and two-time Stanley Cup winner Sergei Zubov.
The former Rangers, Penguins, Stars, SKA and CSKA man turned 47 on Saturday, and maybe it was eagerness to give the new boss a happy birthday that motivated the men from Sochi to make a flying start to this friendly match. Whatever the reason, a mere three-and-a-half minutes into the game the Southerners had stormed into a 2-0 lead, thanks to powerplay goals from the USA’s Casey Wellman and Canada’s Sean Collins.
That is the way it stayed until late in the second period, when Neftekhimik‘s new American import Chad Rau replied with a powerplay goal, but 90 seconds later, Canada’s Eric O'Dell restored Sochi’s two-goal advantage with a penalty shot. The match became a contest again midway through the final session, when American Dan Sexton made it Sochi 3 Neftekhimik 2 (and USA 3 Canada 2), but then the Russians took over. Svyatoslav Grebenshchikov made it 4-2 just 50 seconds after Sexton’s strike, and in the dying minutes, Pavel Padakin‘s empty netter sealed a 5-2 win.
Afterwards, Sergei Zubov summed up his first game in charge:
I wouldn’t say the two early goals set the tone of the game. Yes, we earned the powerplays and managed to make them count, but then our opponents seized the initiative and put us under concerted pressure… In all, it was a tough game for us, and there were times when the opposition showed better movement, but we took our chances, played well in defense, and put in some fine work in our own zone, and that brought us the victory.”

SUNDAY 23/07
Lokomotiv Severstal 3-2 SO
On Thursday the 27th, the Pajulahti Sports Complex in Finland will welcome another KHL team, Alexander Gulyavtsev‘s Severstal, while on Tuesday the 25th, Alex Kudashov‘s Lokomotiv sets off for Belarus to play in a tournament dedicated to Minsk’s 950th birthday. Before packing their bags, however, the two teams met for an unscheduled practice match in Yaroslavl. The game had an unconventional format, with four 20-minute periods, two rosters each (one for the first two periods and another for the final two), for technical reasons, no spectators.
Neither side managed to score in the opening 20 minutes, but Lokomotiv’s Maxime Talbot struck twice in the second period (echoes of the deciding seventh game in the 2009 Stanley Cup final) before Daniil Vovchenko and Dmitry Kagarlitsky swiftly pulled the Cherepovets men level.
The second rosters failed to trouble the scoreboard throughout the third and fourth periods, and it was left to 10-year-old Artur Kayumov to seal victory for Lokomotiv in the shootout.
Ugra - Neman Grodno 2-3
Meanwhile, in Belarus, Ugra faced off against local side Neman Grodno for the second time in four days.  On Thursday, Igor Zakharkin‘s Khanty-Mansiysk Men achieved a narrow 4-3 victory via the shootout, but on Sunday, the Belarusians exacted revenge.
Unlike in Yaroslavl, this match had the usual three periods, but it more resembled the “game of two halves” of soccer folklore. Kirill Belyayev opened the scoring in the final minute of the first period, and six minutes into the second, Evgeny Skachkov doubled Ugra’s lead. The visitors faded after the halfway mark, however, and Neman Grodno hit three unanswered goals to seal a 3-2 win in regulation.
Ugra head coach Igor Zakharkin decided to focus on the positives:
We performed better today than we did in Thursday’s game. I saw the players produce much better combination play and much better understanding, despite my having changed the lines… The main thing is that we have now seen all the players in the roster.”

Dynamo eyes recovery It’s been a difficult summer for Dynamo Moscow. Changes in the management structure at Russia’s oldest club resulted in almost every player becoming an unrestricted free agent, with many influential figures leaving the club. The pre-season preparations were abruptly amended; the traditional summer camp in Pinsk, Belarus, was cancelled and all activity was moved to Moscow.
But now the Blue-and-Whites believe that the worst is over, and they are ready to compete next season. At an open training session last week, incoming head coach Vladimir Vorobyov and summer signing Mikhail Anisin spoke about their hopes for the coming campaign.
Anisin is back for a second spell at Dynamo after his blistering form in the 2012 playoffs helped then head coach Oleg Znarok to win his first Gagarin Cup. Back then, the hockey world was at his feet, but the dynamic forward seemed to trip over, stumbling from club to club in search of his best form. The prospect of a return was a no-brainer, he explained … and he’s determined to deliver the goods.
“The first time I came back to [Dynamo’s base at] Novogorsk, I felt like I was back in my first home,” the forward said. “I didn’t need to think about the offer, it all happened really quickly and there were never any problems.
“In my last 20 games, I’ve only managed two assists. Of course, that’s on me. There’s no point trying to look at other people. I needed to learn from my mistakes; I think I’ve done that and going forward we’ll see the results.”
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Mikhail Anisin

Vorobyov, meanwhile, insists that the team-building process is still on-going, despite celebrating the signings of Juuso Hietanen, Gleb Koryagin and former Barys star Dustin Boyd. He’s looking to reach an agreement with Alexei Tereshchenko, one of the team’s leaders last season, and was bullish about his team’s prospects in the coming season, despite Dynamo’s difficult summer.
“If you don’t aim high, why bother?” he said. “We’ll battle, we’ll take it seriously. We have good goalie, a reliable defense. I think we’ll need some work on offense to get a good mix of youth and experience but things are already better than they were a couple of months ago.”

All-star logo unveiled

Six months ahead of the 2018 All-Star Week, the KHL and the event organizers in Astana, Kazakhstan, have unveiled the logo for the big event. The design, inspired by the blue and yellow national colors of Kazakhstan, incorporates the contemporary skyline of Astana – one of Asia’s most modern cities – within the outlines of the yurt, the traditional dwelling of the ancient nomads of the Kazakh steppe. 

Hudacek’s Olympic hopes

Slovak goalie Julius Hudacek only managed one appearance in his previous stint in the KHL. That was with Sibir in 2013, where things just didn’t work out for him. Now, though, the netminder is back in the league, replacing Jakub Kovar at Severstal.
In an exclusive interview with KHL.ru last week, the Slovak international explained why moving from Orebro to Cherepovets can help him forge into his country’s Olympic roster. He also spoke about the exciting challenge of playing in “the best league in Europe” … and hinted at some new high jinks in his famous post-game ‘Huda-show’. 
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Julius Hudacek

Slovan rebuilds its roster

In Hudacek’s homeland, Slovan Bratislava confirmed its first signings of the summer. Milos Riha snapped up three names familiar to KHL followers, bringing Jakub Stepanek, Ivan Svarny and Juraj Mikus back to the KHL.
Goalie Stepanek, best known for spells with SKA and Severstal, joins from Lukko, in the Finnish League. Mikus, who once played on the same team as his namesake at Lev, is back for a second stint in Bratislava after also appearing for Lokomotiv. He spent last season with Olomouc in the Czech Republic. Finally, defenseman Svarny makes a swift return to Slovan after leaving towards the end of last season for Karpat in Finland.
Slovan also began its pre-season practice games, but suffered defeats in its two outings against Dynamo Pardubice.
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Jakub Stepanek

Mixed fortunes for veteran coaches

For Igor Zakharkin, a coach who once ruled the hockey world in tandem with Vyacheslav Bykov at the helm of Team Russia, a pre-season scrimmage in provincial Belarus might seem a little tame. Having left Salavat Yulaev at the end of last season, Zakharkin is now with Ugra. From the outside, it may seem like a modest position, but Zakharkin is still demanding total commitment from his players, even in a warm-up game.
At Neman Grodno, the Belarusian champion, he saw his team recover a two-goal deficit to tie the game and win in a shoot-out. Immediately, he urged his charges to do more. “I could see that some of the tactical work we’ve been doing over the last two weeks was put to good use on the ice. However, I did not like the fact that we spurned a lot of the scoring chances we created. When you play in the KHL, if you don’t convert such chances into goals, you get punished.”
Mike Keenan, meanwhile, had no such worries after his first game with Kunlun Red Star. Up against a Select roster of players from the Austrian and German leagues, he saw the Chinese team romp to an 8-0 victory. There was a strong Chinese accent to the scoring as well, with two goals from Rudi Ying and further markers from Zach Yuen, Jaw, Brandon Wong, Brett Bellemore, Ethan Werek and Roman Lyuduchin.
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Mike Keenan
The anti-doping program in the KHL Championship 2016-17 season was conducted jointly with the IIHF and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in accordance with the SportAccord Convention – DFSU (Doping Free Sport Unit), and other international agencies accredited by WADA and concerned with the collection of tests and laboratory analysis of results. A total of 377 tests were conducted during the 2016-17 Championship.

The IIHF has informed the KHL that three players - forward Danis Zaripov (then with Metallurg Magnitogorsk), defenseman Andrei Konev (Admiral Vladivostok) and defenseman Derek Smith (Medvescak Zagreb) - have tested positive for banned substances.

Derek Smith tested positive for a category S6.а stimulant.

Andrei Konev tested positive for a category S6.b stimulant.

Danis Zaripov tested positive for a category S6.b stimulant plus category S5 diuretics and masking agents.

On the 21st of July, 2017, having investigated all the available evidence related to the case outlined above,  the IIHF Disciplinary Committee ruled that Danis Zaripov should be banned from competitive hockey until  the 22nd of May,  2019; that Andrei Konev should be banned until the 19th of November, 2017; and that Derek Smith should be banned until the 2nd of September, 2018.

The Kontinental Hockey League has formally excluded all three players from paricipation in the Championship for the terms set down by the IIHF Disciplinary Committee.

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