Dynamo goaltender Alexander Yeryomenko praised the fates that brought him to Moscow, league president Alexander Medvedev hailed the best-ever KHL final and a jubilant Mikhail Anisin promised another victory song - but defeated Omsk forward Anton Kuryanov was left reflecting on what might have been after a hard-fought final series.
A goalie’s fate
Yeryomenko finished the season in perfect style - a shut-out in the decisive game, wrapping that safe pair of hands around not just the Gagarin Cup itself but also the MVP award for the final series.
And, one year after watching Erik Ersberg keep him on the bench as Salavat Yulaev took the top prize, he saluted his good fortune in getting the chance to come to Moscow and play an active part in a title-winning team.
“It’s important for players to play hockey and I thank the fates that brought me to Dynamo to win the cup,” he said. “At Salavat Yulaev I was third choice and last year I didn’t even touch the trophy. Apparently destiny knew what was in store for me.”
The whole of the KHL season has been touched by the tragedy of the opening day, when the aircraft carrying Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s players and coaching staff to a match in Minsk crashed on take-up, claiming 44 lives.
And Yeryomenko was quick to remember his fellow sportsmen who perished that day. “I’d like to dedicate this win to the guys on the Lokomotiv team who are no longer with us,” he told R-Sport. “I’m sure everyone on our team would agree with me. It’s been tough for everyone throughout the season, coming to terms with it. We’ve all had to quietly step around it and play. We’ll always remember those guys.”
For Avangard forward Anton Kuryanov, coming up short was a painful experience. And he conceded that his team had not quite been good enough. “Probably we lacked a bit of experience and quality,” he told Sovietsky Sport. “Maybe Dynamo had a bit more desire, a bit more organization - not just on the ice but also outside the locker room. That was the decisive detail. Sometimes we saw some crazy things which cannot happen in the final.”
Kuryanov would not be drawn on the details, saying it was a matter for the club’s directors, but paid tribute to the fans who traveled from all over Russia to support Avangard in the final. “Without their support we would not have reached the finals, but unfortunately we still lost.”
Sing when we’re winning
Dynamo’s forward Mikhail Anisin, whose 14 play-off goals set a new KHL record, promised to treat his team-mates to another song to celebrate the team’s win. Anisin won fame for an operatic rendition of “O Sole Mio” before this season’s all-star game, and the young winger has cited Pavarotti among his inspirations.
“I don’t know what I’ll sing,” he told KHL TV. “First let’s drink some victory champagne, then we’ll see. But it’s essential to sing as well!”
Anisin paid tribute to the team’s character, and also to the support which came from fans and fellow sportsmen. “The guys from [Anisin’s former club] Vityaz Chekhov came to the games in Moscow, Dynamo’s footballers supported us, the boxers Lebedev and Povetkin. I want to thank everyone who was there for us during the series. We’re number 1! We’re the champions!”
The best yet
KHL President Medvedev praised the “heroic” fightback of Oleg Znarok’s team after Dynamo won three games in a row to recover from the brink of defeat in dramatic style. “Znarok’s players are strong in spirit, and they battled for victory from the first minute to the last,” he said. “In this team every player is a real star. I think Dynamo deserved the win and we have witnessed the most brilliant final in the four-year history of the league.”
“We won because we were better”
Oleg Znarok, who two years earlier tasted the despair of losing a grand final decider after leading in the series, said that this season’s final had left him drained.
“I’m almost without emotion,” he told Sportbox.ru. “It’s a kind of emptiness and fatigue. I want to thank the players for the trust and character they showed right through the play-offs. It was all very difficult and tense but we went step by step to our success and I’m happy that everything ended well.
“Even when it was 1-3 [in the final series] I had no doubts about these guys and I was confident we could still do it. That’s why I said it was only just starting, and I was right. We won because we were the better team. There’s no other way to succeed in sport.”