There were great expectations that this year’s Gagarin Cup final would again see Lokomotiv face Ak Bars in a rematch of the very first KHL final a year ago, but Oleg Znarok and his team had other ideas: HC MVD upset all the odds and won the decisive match 2-1 to clinch a 4:3 series win.
The most traumatic part of the series decider for the home side was the last four seconds. Unable to restrain themselves, the HC MVD players poured out onto the ice and began celebrating a famous victory, but it was premature – the officials sent them back to the bench and awarded a face-off.
“Fortunately, the face-off wasn’t in our zone,” said Alexander Boykov, sighing with relief, “But all the same it made me a bit nervous.”
The remaining four seconds soon passed and the whole team could begin their celebrations in earnest.
“Did you think I was joking when I talked about winning the Gagarin Cup?” asked Mikhail Tyurkin, president of the Balashikha club, “Not at all. I was serious. We have here a fantastic team, a fantastic coach, and an excellent regime leading the club. We are united and unbeatable.”
After the match the victorious team’s changing room was visited by Rashid Nurgaliyev, minister of the Interior, who joined in the festivities, drinking champagne, jumping for joy, and embracing every player.
“I haven’t enjoyed myself so much for a long time,” he admitted, “I have to say it was superb hockey. And this team of ours is capable of great things.”
And yet, by the end of the first period, the home team already found themselves up against it. Andrei Skopintsev sustained damage to his collar-bone and was unable to continue, and has still not said whether he will recover in time to play in the final.
“Calm down, everything will be fine with us,” laughed Maxim Solovyev, himself ruled out for the rest of the season after breaking his arm in Game 6.
From the Yaroslavl side was a gloomy silence, the usual sign of mourning when a team’s season ends in the cruelest fashion. At the press conference, Petr Vorobiev’s smile was understandably absent.
“They punished us for the mistakes we made,” he said, “If I had to say what we were lacking, I would say it was luck. And, of course, there was our failure to score when the chances came our way.”
HC MVD goaltender Michael Garnett recalled the moment when the puck came back off the pipe after a shot from Ivan Tkachenko:
“I think my heart skipped a beat at that moment. I kind of had everything under control, I knew he would have to strike the puck with his wrong arm, but it still went past me. And the pipe saved me. Their remaining attacks were, as they say, all in a day’s work. I’m not saying they were easy, but our defensemen helped me a lot, they wouldn’t let the opposition take aim. And the whole team must take the credit for the win. I’ve never been so happy.”
Oleg Znarok was obviously already thinking about the final, and so at the press conference he was reluctant to go into too much detail:
“We made no changes whatsoever from the previous match. We just needed to play with more discipline and focus, and we managed this.”
Back in the changing room the rejoicing continued.
“I still can’t believe we’ve won,” said Filip Novak, “It’s hard to describe how tough it was. But all the guys were great, they never gave up.”
Alexander Boykov agreed:
“I would be happy to tell you about my emotions, if I had any, but I feel nothing apart from exhaustion.”
Mikhail Tyurkin, however, was happy to keep talking about his club’s chances in the final:
“Ak Bars is a superb team, with strong players, and a formidable coach, but we’ll be fighting for victory.”
Indeed, the time has come to take him seriously.