Each KHL season brings new teams into the competition and this year is no exception – even if the 2015 newcomer isn’t exactly a debutant. Instead it’s time to welcome back Spartak Moscow, fresh from a one-season sabbatical and returning with a stronger financial platform from which to compete.
A year ago the Red-and-Whites reluctantly had to shut down after the collapse of the club’s main sponsor. The youth team kept the team’s name alive in the MHL while behind the scenes the directorate scrambled to bring in the money to resurrect the senior team and come back to KHL action. Happily, one year on, that dream has come true. Spartak will compete again this season and, after a 504-day break from top-level hockey, played its first game last week during a training camp in Finland. It wasn’t quite a fairy-tale return: despite taking an early lead, Spartak went down 6-1 to Lokomotiv, but at least it confirmed that the team was back on the ice.
Spartak’s class of 2015 is coached by German Titov (pictured, right). For him, too, it’s an emotional return to a club that has always been close to his heart. Titov, who was behind the bench in Novokuznetsk last season, was a boyhood Spartak fan but never had the chance to play for his heroes. Now, though, he can represent his favorites at last.
“In the late 1980s I tried out for Spartak but I wasn’t selected and went to Khimik in Voskresensk,” Titov told ITAR-TASS. “But even today, Spartak means a lot to me. I know how much this team means to its fans and how many people – supporters, ex-players, journalists – will be following our work closely. I would never have taken on the role of head coach at such a legendary team if I wasn’t fully prepared for all that.”
Veteran Vyacheslav Kozlov (pictured, left) will be Titov’s assistant. The former Spartak forward, now 43, was part of the last Spartak team to play in the KHL before moving to Atlant last season. He’s part of a big contingent to move from Mytishchi after the Moscow Region team hit financial problems of its own, with GM Alexei Zhamnov leading that switch.
According to Zhamnov there was no plan to take over the nucleus of the Atlant roster, but when it became clear that the team would not compete next season it made sense to try to make that playing staff a foundation for the new Spartak. “We started to think that if we couldn’t save Atlant we could try to preserve the skeleton of that team so that Spartak would not have to start out with nothing,” Zhamnov told Sovietsky Sport newspaper.
Among the players who made the short trip across the Moscow city limits were Swedish goalie Atte Engren
and American defenseman Matt Gilroy
, a KHL All-Star back in January during a successful debut season in Russia. There’s further KHL experience the form of Dinamo Riga’s Charles Genoway
, while foreign firepower comes from Czech international Lukas Radil and Casey Wellman, a product of the Capitals’ organization with a wealth of AHL experience at the Hershey Bears.
Spartak is also likely to play its home games at a new venue. Following Dynamo’s move to the new VTB Ice Palace, the Red-and-Whites are looking at swapping the historic Sokolniki Arena for the larger and better-appointed Luzhniki rink. For the capital’s hockey lovers, it means more opportunities to see top-level sport, while for Spartak the potential to attract larger crowds can only help reinforce a relatively modest 1 bn ruble budget.