What they said after SKA won the cup for the second time in three years.
Two years after SKA lifted the Gagarin Cup for the first time, the Petersburg team climbed back to the top of the podium today. A 5-3 victory in Magnitogorsk sealed a 4-1 series win and secured the club’s second title win.
For many of the players who were involved in both teams, the satisfaction of winning it again two years on was greater than ever.
Evgeny Dadonov, the playoff top scorer two years ago, played a key role in this year’s grand final with four goals and an assist in the five games. After the game, he told reporters:
“I can’t really say how much it means. For me, this is even bigger than when I first won the cup. Back then, I didn’t really know what to expect, but this time I knew and I wanted it even more.
“Today, it was tough to be down 0-2, but maybe it eased a bit of the tension around us and we calmed down.”
This year, as in 2015, SKA won the cup on the road, but the lack of a home crowd didn’t much concern Dadonov: “If you start worrying about whether you can win the cup on home ice, you’ll never win anything, so it doesn’t matter to me where we win.”
Following SKA’s Gagarin Cup victory, head coach Oleg Znarok gave a brief speech in the locker room, thanking his players for their efforts.
Znarok, who was also invited to nail the 16th – and final – winning puck into the team’s championship honors board, recalled the start of the season when he first arrived to take charge in St. Petersburg, championat.com reported.
“Remember how we first came together, remember what we talked about then, remember the work we’ve done,” he said. “You’ve put all your strength into this, and I thank every one of you. We have a great team, and I thank you for that.”
For D-man Anton Belov, this was his third Gagarin Cup final and his second victory. And, despite dropping just two games in the entire playoffs, he insisted that there was nothing easy about this success.
“I’m exhausted, not so much physically as mentally,” he said. “We gave everything, we all understood that we didn’t want to bring the series back to Petersburg.
“After the first round, every series was really tough. Magnitogorsk is a competitive team, it plays good hockey and it’s fun to go up against them. They don’t play like CSKA, and we saw some beautiful hockey. Right now I’m so tired that I won’t really understand everything until I wake up tomorrow.”
Forward Sergei Plotnikov, enjoying a revival in fortunes this season after a difficult year in North America, it was hard to put his feelings into words
“It's really emotional. We worked at this for so long, we’ve done so much this season to achieve this prize,” said the scorer of SKA’s fifth goal. “I can’t really explain how we allowed those two goals early in the game, but we didn’t lose heart after that. We came back to win, because we wanted to finish the series today.”
Two of SKA’s youngest players, Alexander Barabanov and Alexander Dergachyov both felt that this year’s success was more rewarding for them than the 2015 triumph. Dergachyov, 20, only stepped up from the juniors in 2015-16, and tasted victory for the first time today.
“I’m just so happy that we’ve won,” he said. “I’m only now beginning to understand what we’ve done, it’s like I’m just waking up. This victory means a lot. Last time, I could only dream of something like this; I watched how the team celebrated [in 2015]. I thought how great it would be, but understood that I had a long way to go. And now, all of a sudden, here it is.”
Barabanov, 22, was among the scorers on Sunday as he won his second Gagarin Cup.
“I might be a bit young to have two Gagarin Cups, but that’s down to the team, not to me,” he added. “This time it means even more than in 2015; this time I felt like I was more a part of the team, I could contribute more. Thanks to the coaching staff and my colleagues for their faith in me.”
After seeing the dream of lifting the cup die, few from the Metallurg camp wanted to speak to the media. Goalie Vasily Koshechkin, who was named playoff MVP, tried to sum up his team’s disappointment in an interview on Match TV.
“I think we played well all season,” he said. “We qualified for the playoffs in first place, wegot to the final. We battled hard, we gave it everything we had, but we couldn’t quite win it. SKA was our most dangerous opponent this season. They play as a team, they were strong throughout the series. Some things didn’t work out for us, some things did, but in the end, we lost. It hurts.”
Throughout the series there were complaints about refereeing calls. Some felt that the officials favored SKA; home fans in Magnitogorsk chanted ‘Shame, shame!’ at the end of Sunday’s decisive game. Metallurg head coach Ilya Vorobyov apologized for his own outburst during Friday’s game in St. Petersburg, but for many there was a lingering sense of injustice.
But senior figures within the KHL were happy that the refereeing was fair throughout the competition. League president Dmitry Chernyshenko spoke out in defense of the officials, while admitting there was always room for improvement.
“During the playoffs, when emotions run high, I can easily understand the reaction of a beaten team,” he told R-Sport. “But we rely on the professional opinions of our referees and our chief referee confirmed that all the key decisions were justified. The officials haven’t made any errors that would fundamentally affect the outcome of the games.
“We’re not saying it’s perfect – nothing is perfect – but the main thing is that we are trying to be more professional and more effective. We will keep looking to improve.”
Among the players, Sergei Plotnikov had a simple answer. “If you look at the number of shots on goal, I think it’s clear why we won.”