It’s been a quiet summer in Magnitogorsk, where the defending champion won’t be changing a winning formula.
After Ilya Vorobyov’s team downed red-hot favorite CSKA in seven thrilling games to lift the Gagarin Cup for the second time in three years, some began talking about a Metallurg Dynasty. Others warned of the dangers of over-confidence, a championship hangover, in a roster long on top-level experience but perhaps short on new talent breaking into the team.
But the transfer activity this summer has been minimal: Vorobyov clearly sees little reason to change a winning team and with the renowned Mozyakin-Kovar-Zaripov line still capable of plundering points against all-comers it’s not hard to see why.
That’s why the ins and outs have been fairly incidental. Two defensemen – Rafael Batyrshin (Ak Bars) and Sergei Osipov (Lokomotiv) – have departed; two forwards, Dmitry and Denis Kazionov of Sochi, have arrived. The rest, even the formal departure of Mike Keenan from the advisory role he took on after Vorobyov moved behind the bench, has been very quiet.
Not even the lure of the NHL has disrupted Metallurg. Forward Yaroslav Kosov was linked with the Florida Panthers but couldn’t agree a deal. “It was only ever a conversation [with Florida],” he told Sport Express. “I don’t want to go into detail about it. I’m staying with Metallurg, playing for my home-town team.”
Yet all that continuity hasn’t garnered great results in pre-season. Playing at the annual warm-up tournament in Chelyabinsk, Metallurg was some way short of championship form. One overtime win over Ugra was all the team had to show from its three games; a third-place playoff won on Monday was not really in line with expectations.
So is there a hangover from last season’s champagne? Vice-president Gennady Velichkin insists not.
“There are different meanings to this phrase but I’m well used to every nuance,” he told Sport Express. “It’s difficult to avoid – some of the younger players start to believe that they are already great stars and begin to turn up their noses a bit. But at Metallurg we have proven antibodies to this ‘star disease’ and this year’s hangover was quick and fairly painless.”
That’s resulted in several established Metallurg players signing up for longer deals at the club and ensured that Vorobyov’s team will have a familiar look when it starts its campaign on August 22 against CSKA in the Opening Cup.
Where replacements are needed – such as new D-men to cover Batyrshin and Osipov – Velichkin expects the youth system to deliver. “We’re bringing in young guys with talent and potential,” he told the club’s official site. “It’s important that we stick to our path, keep moving in the same direction and carry on with the plans we established a few years ago.”
According to head coach Vorobyov, if all goes to plan Magnitka’s entire blue line – with the exception of Canadian Chris Lee – could comprise local lads who emerged from the Stalny Lisy youth team. “It would be great to see a team competing at the top of the table with almost all its defensemen coming out of its own youth program,” he said. “We hope that these guys can realize their potential and play at this level for Metallurg.”