Feared by many opponents for the grueling flights to Siberia, Kazakhstan and the Far East, the Chernyshev division presents a unique challenge for its members. But it boasts two of the league’s most famous names in Avangard and Salavat Yulaev, and a new-look line-up from Barys Astana. However, their strength is in stark contrast to the financial problems facing Metallurg Novokuznetsk, whose greatest challenge may be simply completing the season on a drastically reduced budget.
Last season saw Amur reach the KHL play-offs for the first time under the guidance of Hannu Jortikka. This time, however, it’s a changed line-up with big names such as Mikko Maenpaa and Petr Vrana moving on. New arrivals include Finnish World Champions Mika Pyorala and Tipo Jaakola, with Juha-Pekka Hutonen adding to the Finnish contingent in the Far East. A pre-season campaign brought just two regulation time wins – both over the Japanese national team – as the new boys bed in.
Key figure: Jakub Petruzalek was last season’s scoring star, but can he repeat that form this time around?
What they’re saying: “I’m looking for my kind of player. Everyone knows we’ve had a lot of changes this summer and we’re building a new team. I look on the ice and I don’t know what to expect from my players, and they have to show me what they can do to impress me.” – head coach Hannu Jortikka.
Last season’s runner-up has brought in another Finn, Petri Matikainen, in the hope of going one better than last year. After a month in the job, he has spoken warmly of the youngsters emerging through the club, and picked Evgeny Mozer as a potential star in the making. Pre-season preparations have been disrupted by injuries to key players, including captain Alexander Frolov and Alexander Nesterov. That has increased the pressure on Alexander Perezhogin to keep providing the goals.
Key figure: That man Perezhogin was the star of the play-offs, and without Roman Cervenka this season he’ll be expected to lead the way once again.
What they’re saying: “In Chelyabinsk we had problems in defense, and we scored very few goals. By the time we played in Omsk things were much better, and I think we’re ready for the start of the season.” – head coach Petri Matikainen.
It’s been a summer of change in Kazakhstan, with Vladimir Krikunov inheriting Andrei Shayanov’s squad and proceeding to dismantle large parts of it. The loss of Kevin Dallman, for so long a talisman for the team, will be hard to overcome, but retaining Brandon Bochenski has softened that blow. Kazakhstan’s national captain Dmitry Upper and former Vityaz hardman Jon Mirasty are among the new arrivals.
Key figure: Brandon Bochenski was a scoring sensation last season, and has signed a three-year contract in Astana.
What they’re saying: “What can I do, when my previous club even wants to take the socks I was wearing for training?” – forward Konstantin Pushkaryov hopes for better footwear on his return to Barys.
With the team facing financial restrictions, very little has happened on the transfer front in Novokuznetsk, with last season’s struggler having little option but to go with what it has, a team short on experience despite the return of Chris Simon and Brent Sopel. Young starlet Anton Slepyshev has caught the eye here and at international youth level, and his generation has to shoulder the burden of sustaining the organization. As late as Aug. 6, the club’s officials posted a notice on the team’s website confirming that despite the financial problems facing Metallurg, the team would compete in this season’s KHL, but new signings have been limited to youngsters emerging from the MHL or VHL while officials say they are working hard to resolve the money worries and give the Siberian city a stronger line-up in future.
Key figure: Brent Sopel’s experience in defense will be vital for a young Metallurg team.
What they’re saying: “I’ve played more than 700 games in the NHL, I’ve won the Stanley Cup, but now I’m at a new stage in my career, where I should share that experience with others. Believe me, we’ve got a great bunch of young players here and I feel like I’m getting younger myself!” – Brent Sopel on why Novokuznetsk is the place for him.
Salavat Yulaev Ufa
After a turbulent campaign last time, Salavat Yulaev has kept faith with coach Vener Safin and is looking for a less stressful season this time around. Defenseman Kirill Koltsov returns after a year at SKA, rekindling memories of the Gagarin Cup winning side of 2011, but the key question remains on the offense where Safin is confronted with a large, Alexander Radulov-shaped hole in his scoring options. The arrival of Tomas Rolinek and Denis Khlystov from Magnitka could help, but much will depend on Sergei Zinovyev, who has signed an extended contract.
Key figure: In the absence of Radulov’s game-winning flair, Zinovyev’s know-how will be vital.
What they’re saying: “We’ve put together a good, battling team. We might not have star names, but the guys know how to work together and get results.” – Vener Safin at a supporters’ day.
Sibir has brought in a new head coach, Dmitry Kvartalnov from Severstal, and will hope to force its way back into the play-offs after missing out last time. The summer trading has been unspectacular, but the arrival of reliable goaltender Jeff Glass could bring much-needed defensive strength to a team which looks short of firepower.
Key figure: The ‘Siberian miracle’ two seasons ago was built on solid goalkeeping, and Jeff Glass will be expected to repeat that after arriving from Barys Astana.
What they’re saying: “Our goal is reach the play-offs, and that’s what we’ll do” – forward Viktor Drugov is confident of Sibir’s chances.