It’s one of the most successful clubs for developing young hockey talent – but Metallurg Novokuznetsk has yet to reach a KHL play-off campaign. This year the Siberian city is turning to one of its most famous sons in a bid to snap that unhappy sequence.
Sergei Zinovyev, who was appointed general manager at Metallurg last week, is one of the biggest names to emerge from the club’s program in recent years. Born in Prokopyesk, some 50km west of the city, he made his Russian Super League debut for Metallurg in 1998, aged just 18. The following year he helped Metallurg to second place in the Russian Superleague’s regular season, the club’s best ever regular season performance.
His career soon took him to greater heights: starring alongside Alexei Morozov and Danis Zaripov to win the Russian Super League with Ak Bars in 2006 and help Russia to back-to-back World Championships in 2008 and 2009. Further glory came with Salavat Yulaev and a Gagarin Cup success in 2011 before he hung up his skates in 2014.
Now, aged just 36, he’s one of the youngest GMs in the sport after replacing Vladimir Rokkel in the Metallurg hot-seat. And he faces one of the biggest challenges in the KHL – how to nurture the undoubted talent in Novokuznetsk into a winning team, while coping with a tight budget that sees its stars whisked away with unfailing frequency.
Last season was a case in point. Metallurg finished 14th in the Eastern Conference, hopes of a play-off push squashed when free-scoring American Ryan Stoa moved to Neftekhimik in November. At that time his line was the most productive in the KHL. The club also saw the likes of Ilya Sorokin and Damir Zhafyarov enjoying impressive seasons at CSKA and Sibir respectively after graduating from the Metallurg school. At the World Championship in Moscow, Russia had four players – Sorokin, fellow goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, D-man Dmitry Orlov and forward Ivan Telegin – whose careers began in Novokuznetsk.
In the coming season Zinovyev can look to the emerging talent of another home-grown talent, 19-year-old Kirill Kaprizov, as a starting point for the team’s offense. Last season he was joint top scorer with 27 points and earned a call-up to the World Juniors. He is confident that there’s more to come from the youth production line.
“Everyone knows we’ve got a lot of young guys at Metallurg and last season we were even playing a line of youngsters with Alexei Razumov, Andrei Karavayev and Stanislav Butuzov,” he told iihf.com. “Our coaches have complete trust in our young players and it’s clear that this confidence is transmitted to the players themselves – we try to express ourselves on the ice. That's why almost every year we see someone from Novokuznetsk emerging at the highest level.”
For Zinovyev, another kid from Novokuznetsk who reached the highest level, the challenge is to build that potential into a team capable of finally ending that long-running play-off hoodoo and reaching its first post-season since 2007.