GAGARIN CUP FINAL
(E3) Salavat Yulaev Ufa 3
(W4) Atlant Moscow Region 2
Salavat Yulaev win the series 4-1
The Ufa men were not in the mood to prolong this series. This was illustrated all around and inside the Ufa-Arena. The pre-game ceremony began with the resounding cry: “The Gagarin Cup stays here! We don’t want to drag the trophy there and back.” Near the players’ benches a banner was unfurled bearing the legend: “Gagarin has landed: 16.04.2011. Ufa.”
Among those arriving to view the probable champions was the SKA Saint Petersburg leadership: Alexander Medvedev, Mikhail Golovkov, and Andrei Tochitsky, while further excitement greeted the appearance of Alexei Yashin in the stands. Another face in the crowd here in the Bashkiria capital, though one not recognized by the fans, was Craig MacTavish. The former NHL star is the main contender to be the Army Men’s head coach.
Atlant deserved the numerous compliments for the team’s contribution to this final series. Despite the final score, the Mytishchi men gave an assured performance in the previous game and looked a more than useful side again today, keeping the intrigue alive right until the very end.
“I don’t think we’ll really know the taste of victory until tomorrow,” said Salavat Yulaev captain Viktor Kozlov after the game, speaking through a bushy beard. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet what we’ve done. One thing I can say: the road to the Cup was a really tricky one.”
“When Atlant equalized in the third period, did you not have any fear about the outcome?”
“I’ll be honest and admit the fear was there all game. It’s great that we got the better of our emotions and our opponents, and we didn’t let the series drag on.”
“When did you finally believe that your team would win?”
“I’ve believed it all along, but only when the final siren sounded in today’s game did I believe it with certainty. These were really tricky opponents, capable of anything. At the start of the game they caused us a lot of problems, and they kept up the pressure on us as much as they could all through the series.”
“When will you have a shave?”
“As soon as I get home. It really itches.”
Salavat Yulaev made a confident enough start to the game. The first goal past Konstantin Barulin sailed in off the stick of Andrei Taratukhin – his first goal of the current play-offs. There was nothing to choose between the protagonists in the second period, but the third began with a rapid trio of penalties handed to the hosts, and Jan Marek took full advantage and leveled the score.
Atlant came very close to adding more, but Erik Ersberg was in superb form between the pipes. The grand finale began when a penalty against the visitors was punished by Andrei Kuteikin’s goal from distance, and within 90 seconds it seemed all over when Alexander Svitov added a third. This goal turned out to be the game-winner, as Atlant refused to lie down and immediately pulled one back with a pinpoint strike from Alexei Glukhov.
The closing stages were a treat to watch. Milos Riha, as in previous play-off games, pulled the goalie quite early, but today it was to no avail, and soon the final siren was drowned out by the roars that greeted the clinching of the championship.
“I got this stick prepared especially for today,” said Patrick Thoresen, standing in center of the changing room next to the coveted trophy, showing the team his goaltender’s stick, to which he has affixed fifteen pucks. “I was just missing one, the most important puck. And we’ve got it! We’re the champions!”
“We would not have had this triumph without the crazy support from our fans. With people like that behind us we have nothing to fear from any opponent, even from another planet,” Alexander Radulov reflected, wearing a constant smile. “You can’t even imagine how great it is to play in such a classy team as this. I’m glad I’ve won my first gold medal in Russia with these guys. Yes, a few things didn’t go right last season, but we’ve put in some thorough work on our mistakes and everything’s worked out.”
“How does the feeling of being a champion with your club compare with winning the world championship?”
“Yes, for me representing my country is of the highest importance, but Salavat Yulaev is my life now. I’ll never forget these ten months, our journey to this victory. Honestly, today was the realization of my dreams, my goal, the reason I play in Russia – this championship, holding the Gagarin Cup. Now I’ll be working some more, setting new goals. I don’t want to say goodbye to this trophy in a year’s time.”
“It’s a shame we lacked confidence in offense,” said Atlant head coach Milos Riha. “Our defense looked simply outstanding. I think if we’d scored two goals instead of one in power play at the start of the third period, then we would’ve held on for victory. It was the deciding episode in the game. Yes, in some places I can see where I’ve made mistakes. I could have made changes in the lines and sent out players who are hungrier for goals. In any case, the guys were great and I’m proud of them.”
Andrei Lopata, Ufa