SATURDAY 22/07

HC SochiNeftekhimik – 5-2

Four days after opening the preseason with a resounding 5-1 win over Traktor, Andrei Nazarov‘s Neftekhimik found itself on the receiving end of a similar beating from HC Sochi at the Pajulahti Sports Complex in Finland.

Both these clubs had a disappointing 2016-17, and as a result, both have made significant changes to the roster over the summer. However, the men from the Black Sea went one step further and brought in a new head coach, and the man chosen to lead the Olympic City team is an Olympic gold medalist, legendary defenseman and two-time Stanley Cup winner Sergei Zubov.

The former Rangers, Penguins, Stars, SKA and CSKA man turned 47 on Saturday, and maybe it was eagerness to give the new boss a happy birthday that motivated the men from Sochi to make a flying start to this friendly match. Whatever the reason, a mere three-and-a-half minutes into the game the Southerners had stormed into a 2-0 lead, thanks to powerplay goals from the USA’s Casey Wellman and Canada’s Sean Collins.

That is the way it stayed until late in the second period, when Neftekhimik‘s new American import Chad Rau replied with a powerplay goal, but 90 seconds later, Canada’s Eric O'Dell restored Sochi’s two-goal advantage with a penalty shot. The match became a contest again midway through the final session, when American Dan Sexton made it Sochi 3 Neftekhimik 2 (and USA 3 Canada 2), but then the Russians took over. Svyatoslav Grebenshchikov made it 4-2 just 50 seconds after Sexton’s strike, and in the dying minutes, Pavel Padakin‘s empty netter sealed a 5-2 win.

Afterwards, Sergei Zubov summed up his first game in charge:

I wouldn’t say the two early goals set the tone of the game. Yes, we earned the powerplays and managed to make them count, but then our opponents seized the initiative and put us under concerted pressure… In all, it was a tough game for us, and there were times when the opposition showed better movement, but we took our chances, played well in defense, and put in some fine work in our own zone, and that brought us the victory.”


SUNDAY 23/07

Lokomotiv Severstal 3-2 SO

On Thursday the 27th, the Pajulahti Sports Complex in Finland will welcome another KHL team, Alexander Gulyavtsev‘s Severstal, while on Tuesday the 25th, Alex Kudashov‘s Lokomotiv sets off for Belarus to play in a tournament dedicated to Minsk’s 950th birthday. Before packing their bags, however, the two teams met for an unscheduled practice match in Yaroslavl. The game had an unconventional format, with four 20-minute periods, two rosters each (one for the first two periods and another for the final two), for technical reasons, no spectators.

Photo: 23.07.17. Friendly match. Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl) - Severstal (Cherepovets)

Neither side managed to score in the opening 20 minutes, but Lokomotiv’s Maxime Talbot struck twice in the second period (echoes of the deciding seventh game in the 2009 Stanley Cup final) before Daniil Vovchenko and Dmitry Kagarlitsky swiftly pulled the Cherepovets men level.

The second rosters failed to trouble the scoreboard throughout the third and fourth periods, and it was left to 10-year-old Artur Kayumov to seal victory for Lokomotiv in the shootout.


Ugra - Neman Grodno 2-3

Meanwhile, in Belarus, Ugra faced off against local side Neman Grodno for the second time in four days.  On Thursday, Igor Zakharkin‘s Khanty-Mansiysk Men achieved a narrow 4-3 victory via the shootout, but on Sunday, the Belarusians exacted revenge.

Unlike in Yaroslavl, this match had the usual three periods, but it more resembled the “game of two halves” of soccer folklore. Kirill Belyayev opened the scoring in the final minute of the first period, and six minutes into the second, Evgeny Skachkov doubled Ugra’s lead. The visitors faded after the halfway mark, however, and Neman Grodno hit three unanswered goals to seal a 3-2 win in regulation.

Ugra head coach Igor Zakharkin decided to focus on the positives:

We performed better today than we did in Thursday’s game. I saw the players produce much better combination play and much better understanding, despite my having changed the lines… The main thing is that we have now seen all the players in the roster.”

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