The final game unfolded as all had expected. Both teams knew full well how the slightest mistake would be punished, and concentrated all their efforts into not gifting their opponents any chances. Experience told in the end. The visitors twice breached Michael Garnett’s defenses, while preventing the hosts from doing the same to Petri Vehanen.

“Of course, now we can say that we have achieved a heck of a lot,” said Maxim Velikov, scarcely able to fight back the tears. “But we wanted to win right here, right now. We did everything we could, but we relaxed a little at the start of the second period. That’s a shame, of course.”

The Kazan camp said relatively little about the game, concentrating instead on celebrating victory. Standing behind them, looking on with a certain sadness, was KHL president Alexander Medvedev.

Although a sensational finish was not to be, he was happy nonetheless at the quality of the tournament.

“What a championship we had!” he said. “I think everyone was gripped by it. And look at the progress of the Militia men this year. How many turned up to watch them at the start of the season? And here today they have a packed house. And the Kazan guys once again proved what a powerful team they have.”

The Ak Bars players were magnanimous in victory, and gave generous praise to the losing side.

“I have to say, we have beaten a very strong team,” said forward Evgeny Bodrov. “They performed superbly, and gave us a really tough time throughout this series. It’s probably the reason this victory seems more precious.”

Oleg Znarok shared his feelings at the press conference, making it clear he would never forget this band of players who created such a commotion during this championship.

“I have no other words to say to my team, apart from to thank them,” he said. “Every one of them deserves a statue in their honor. We produced an excellent season, and made it all the way to the final. Yes, we made a couple of mistakes in the deciding match, and our opponents took full advantage, but these things happen.”

HC MVD president Mikhail Tyurkin believes the defeat was a valuable lesson.

“If we had won the Gagarin Cup, what would we strive for next year?” he smiled. “Now the mission for next season is already set – to win the big prize. Remember my words in the future. We are already catching up with Kazan and we’ll soon overtake them.”

Zinetula Bilyaletdinov happily posed for photographs with friends, relations, with fans of both teams, but kept his composure when the time came to talk to the press.

“We just knew how to win,” was his commentary on Game 7. “All the guys showed their fighting spirit, showed all their best qualities. And that is why we won the Gagarin Cup.”

Injury kept Alexei Morozov from taking part in the final match, but he was still every bit as overjoyed as his comrades.

“I have to praise every single player, the whole team,” said the Kazan captain, struggling to make himself heard above all the celebrations in the changing room. “We are a genuine team. Thank you to everyone, to all who supported us, all who believed in us through thick and thin.”

As Morozov went off to sample the champagne, the most valuable player of this match, Ilya Nikulin, spoke about how his team overcame the loss of their injured leaders.

“We just kept battling. Not just for ourselves, but for the injured guys,” he said. “Unity is our strength. We never surrender when the going gets tough. That little bit extra makes Kazan what it is – not a team of one or two players, but a real, united collective.”

The victory celebrations in the Ak Bars changing room continued for nearly two hours, and by that time the HC MVD players were already managing to smile. Their progress in this year’s championship is also a massive achievement, one which would have been considered unbelievable a year ago.

Now we can all believe it.

Alexei Shevchenko

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