Welcome to the KHL’s weekly news, bringing you a rundown of last week’s key events in Eurasia’s biggest hockey competition.
Sergei Mozyakin became the first player to reach 1,000 career points in Russian and Soviet hockey. He achieved the landmark in Sunday’s playoff game in Beijing, scoring in the 39th minute to put Metallurg Magnitogorsk 2-1 up on Kunlun Red Star. Later he added an assist as the Gagarin Cup holder won 3-2 to take a 3-0 lead in the Conference Quarter-Final series. Mozyakin’s latest milestone caps a remarkable year for the 35-year-old forward. He overtook Boris Mikhailov’s all-time Russian goalscoring record of 428 back in September, and set new KHL records for goals and points in a regular season (48 and 85 respectively).
Mozyakin’s achievement drew praise from many quarters, including his former head coach at Metallurg, Mike Keenan. In an exclusive interview with khl.ru, Keenan compared the record-breaker with Calgary Flames legend Hakan Loob (full interview at http://en.khl.ru/news/2017/02/26/339536.html)
Kunlun Red Star, the KHL’s newest franchise, has done great things in promoting the game in China. A successful regular season played in Beijing and Shanghai saw Vladimir Yurzinov’s team earn a playoff spot at the first attempt, with contributions from the likes of Brett Bellemore, Chad Rau, Sean Collins and Alexei Ponikarovsky among others. A tough assignment against defending champion Metallurg Magnitogorsk brought two road losses at the start of the series, but a crowd of 7,200 came to see the first playoff action in the People’s Republic on Sunday.
Zach Yuen’s goal in Magnitogorsk on Friday was another special moment; he became the first Chinese player to score a postseason KHL goal. Yuen, 23, was born in Vancouver to Chinese parents and has established himself as the local hero in the Beijing franchise. Playing as a D-man or a forward depending on the team’s needs, he scored 11 points (3+8) in regular season and during the week he told khl.ru why he never doubted the newly-formed organization would make an immediate impact (full interview at http://en.khl.ru/news/2017/02/23/340460.html)
Kirill Kaprizov, a Minnesota Wild prospect, is enjoying his first ever look at playoff hockey. The 19-year-old shot to international prominence at the World Juniors this winter and still found time to post 20+22=42 points for the regular season with Salavat Yulaev Ufa. That’s the second-best KHL tally ever achieved by a u20 player, slotting between the 41 and 44-point hauls from Capitals’ forward Evgeny Kuznetsov during his time at Traktor. Kaprizov’s freshman post-season campaign is also going well, with two goals in three outings against Salavat’s old rival Ak Bars Kazan.
Speaking of Traktor talent, the Chelyabinsk organization now boasts the three youngest KHL playoff goalscorers. Vitaly Kravtsov became the youngest ever when he found the net in only his fourth KHL appearance. He was just 17 years, 62 days when he scored in game one of the Conference QF series against Barys Astana. Next on the list is Valery Nichushkin, who starred in the 2013 playoffs before moving on to Dallas Stars and now CSKA Moscow, with Kuznetsov in third.
Nigel Dawes, a much-travelled NHLer with more than 200 games for the Rangers, Coyotes, Flames, Thrashers and Canadiens, continues to find life in Kazakhstan to his liking. This season he became the all-time top-scoring import in KHL history, ahead of his Barys Astana team-mate Brandon Bochenski, and he’s taking that scoring form into the playoffs. Two goals on Sunday saw his team to a 3-1 victory – and 2-1 series lead – over Traktor, and moved him to three post-season markers this time out. That’s a career total of 178 KHL goals and counting.
Another familiar face, Pavel Datsyuk, has also been among the post-season points. Saturday’s game for SKA St. Petersburg at Vityaz Moscow Region yielded a four-point haul including a memorable goal off a trademark backhand finish. The Magic Man continues to cast his spells after leaving Detroit in the summer.
The conference quarter final series continue. In the Western Conference, SKA St. Petersburg – featuring Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk and coached by team Russia supremo Oleg Znarok – leads 3-0 over outsider Vityaz Moscow Region. CSKA Moscow, which topped the table in regular season, has a similar cushion over Jokerit Helsinki, despite being taken to overtime twice. Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, with Stanley Cup winner Max Talbot on offense, leads Craig Woodcroft’s Dinamo Minsk 3-0 while the closest battle continues in Nizhny Novgorod where Dynamo Moscow leads 2-1 over Torpedo after three results in overtime. The remaining games in the West are scheduled for Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday if needed.
In the East, Metallurg has a 3-0 lead over Kunlun Red Star as Mozyakin’s men defend last season’s title. But the other series are tight, none more so than the ‘Green derby’ between Salavat Yulaev Ufa and Ak Bars Kazan. Ak Bars, under the guidance of former team Russia head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, leads 2-1, but every game so far has been decided by a single goal. Elsewhere, Avangard Omsk leads Admiral Vladivostok 2-1, while Barys Astana edges Traktor Chelyabinsk by a similar margin. The remaining games in the East are scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and next Monday if needed.