It’s all over. After 870 regular season games and four rounds of thrilling playoff action, SKA St. Petersburg finishes the season as the champion. The final week of action brought new records and inscribed new names onto the Gagarin Cup. No wonder KHL President Dmitry Chernyshenko was happy to point to another year of improved attendances and TV ratings while looking forward to even more excitement as the league celebrates its 10th anniversary next season.
For the second time in three seasons, SKA lifted the Gagarin Cup. But this time the team achieved it with just two losses in post-season – a new KHL record. Sunday’s 5-3 victory in Magnitogorsk wrapped up the ninth KHL season with the Army Men adding a few more lines to the history books. Head coach Oleg Znarok became the first man to win the league top trophy three teams, adding to his wins at Dynamo Moscow in 2012 and 2013. The team’s 66-goal playoff haul wasn’t the best ever – Traktor Chelyabinsk fired in 68 in 2013 – but with just 18 games played, the 3.667 goals per game strike rate was the best post-season scoring record in the KHL era.
SKA captain Ilya Kovalchuk claimed his second Gagarin Cup – and immediately cited the team’s new faces as an inspiration. “It’s always good to win, and this year we had a real family feel about our team,” he said. “Lots of the guys were going for their first cup and maybe that inspired us to fight harder for them. Now, we’re all champions!” That family feeling might lead to some disappointments closer to home for Kovalchuk though – he admitted that his son had wanted to see the team lift the cup on home ice in Petersburg, rather than on the road in Magnitogorsk.
While Kovalchuk featured in the final series, there was frustration for another former NHL star, Pavel Datsyuk. The Magic Man missed out on the end of the season through injury – something that assistant coach Harijs Vitolins admitted was a tough blow. “Of course, Pavel was a big loss, and not just on our special teams. He’s the kind of player who can calm everyone down when necessary. He’s always in the right place at the right time. Luckily, we were able to replace him, but really I think this was a win for our whole team. It wasn’t all about an individual star.”
Metallurg fell short in its bid to become the first team to win the cup three times, but had a few individual achievements along the way. Danis Zaripov’s goalscoring form saw him equal the all-time KHL playoff goal tally of 15, and set a new record of three post-season hat-tricks. Defenseman Chris Lee’s 20 assist matched the all-time total for helpers and set a new mark for blue liners. Goalie Vasily Koshechkin – who faced intense pressure from SKA’s offense, especially in games three and four – was the playoff MVP thanks to a save percentage of 94.3% in Magnitka’s run.
KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko rounded off the league’s ninth season during Sunday’s trophy presentation – and hailed another successful campaign.
“It was a long season, with 870 games on almost 200 days,” he said. “It was very intense – we got through a lot of work to make it happen. I would like to thank the fans who turned out loyally to watch, and to congratulate SKA, the champion of our ninth season.
“This championship was the most interesting so far. Next year, probably, will be even better, but this was the third consecutive season that we saw high spectator interest. More than 6 million people came to the games, and the championship set new records in terms of TV ratings. Now we are working on making next year’s 10th anniversary season even more exciting!”
The action on the ice might be over, but KHL.ru remains the place for all the latest news and features from across the league. And, with next season already shaping up to be a classic, there’s plenty to keep everyone interested over the summer.