There’s still no stopping SKA, with the Petersburg club closing in on its own record for consecutive victories from the start of a season. Elsewhere, the KHL directorate meeting brought news of an award in memory of Sergei Gimaev, while league president Dmitry Chernyshenko spoke of the added excitement generated this season by the threat of demotion for three clubs. And, in China, young defenseman Pavel Vorobei explained just why his head coach is known as ‘Iron’ Mike Keenan.
SKA’s 5-0 demolition of Traktor on Sunday was the defending champion’s 12th successive victory since the start of the season. The Petersburg team matched the KHL’s All-time winning streak from the start of any campaign, equalling the 12 games it won in 2014-15. Back then, under the guidance of head coach Vyacheslav Bykov, SKA went on to win its first Gagarin Cup – but CSKA finished on top of the regular season table.
Victory at Avangard on Thursday would see Oleg Znarok’s class of 2017-18 set a new record for consecutive wins from the start of the season. A 13th straight triumph would also match the streaks established by CSKA, Metallurg Magnitogorsk and Lokomotiv in previous seasons. The longest ever KHL winning streak, though, was inspired by Jaromir Jagr at Avangard: in 2010-11, Omsk enjoyed 18 straight victories.
For the first time in the KHL’s history, the threat of relegation hangs over the heads of the competing teams. As part of a plan to reduce the overall number of clubs from 27 to 24 at the end of the season, every team knows it has to perform to maintain its place in the competition.
The demoted teams won’t be chosen purely on the basis of results on the ice: other factors such as attendances, quality of facilities and financial sustainability will also be taken into account. But KHL President Dmitry Chernyshenko believes that everyone has been galvanized by the jeopardy to their status.
“Our strategy has placed the Sword of Damocles above the clubs, who know that next season will only feature 24 teams,” he told journalists after Friday’s KHL board meeting in Moscow. “We are witnessing many teams from lower down the rankings gaining in strength. Everyone is trying. Now we are witnessing a fascinating battle developing. We are still not even a month into the new season, and we have already had a lot of matches with unexpected outcomes.”
Sergei Gimaev, a much-loved hockey player, coach and pundit who tragically passed away last season, is to be remembered in a new KHL prize. The Sergei Gimaev award for Loyalty to Hockey will be presented each season to the veteran who best fulfils the role of mentor within the game.
The news, announced at Friday’s KHL board meeting, is a fitting tribute to a man whose lifelong passion for his game was matched by his generous enthusiasm for sharing his experience and expertise with all-comers.
Mike Keenan’s Kunlun Red Star has been the surprise package of the Eastern Conference so far, vying for top spot in the fledgling league table. The new-look roster picked up back-to-back 2-0 victories in Shanghai last week, and 19-year-old defenseman Pavel Vorobei lifted the lid on life under the legendary coach.
“It’s all very new for me: the training process, the way the team is put together and the general organization of the whole process,” he told KHL.ru. “I think that’s why they call him ‘Iron’. It’s not about discpline – lots of coaches can be hard on their players. It’s because nothing is left to chance. He personally takes charge of absolutely everything: what is in the locker room, what hangs on the walls, even who is sitting where. It’s everything, right down to where the rubbish bins should be.
“Everybody on the team, including the cleaners, has to know exactly what he’s doing.”
On the 16th of September, the third Women's Hockey League (WHL) season got underway.
As before, the 2017-18 WHL Championship features 7 teams: Agidel (Ufa), Arctic University (Ukhta), Biryusa (Krasnoyarsk), Dynamo Saint Peterburg (Saint Petersburg), Sverdlovsk Region (Yekaterinburg), Skif (Nizhny Novgorod) and Tornado (Moscow Region).
In addition to the Russian players, the WHL has an international contingent comprising 7 players from four different European nations:
At Agidel are forwards Fanni Gasparics (Hungary) and Nikol Cupkova (Slovakia), Biryusa has defender Pavlina Horalkova (Czech Republic). Dynamo Saint Peterburg has two Czech players: defender Aneta Tejralova and forward Alena Polenska, while Skif boasts defender Franciska Kiss-Simon (Hungary) and forward Karoliina Rantamäki (Finland).
The 2017-18 WHL Championship follows the familiar two-stage format: the first stage is a round-robin regular season in which each team plays the other six, once at home and once on the road (84 matches in total). The second stage is the playoffs, in which the four best teams compete in a semi-final series, the winners of which progress to the final series of matches to decide the champion.
Kuznetskie Medvedy introduced their new head coach in Aleksei Korshkov. He replaced the long term Metallurg junior team coach Aleksandr Kitov. Kitov now became acting CEO of the club.
Sibirskie Snaypery had their best start of the regular season in franchise history. 5-0 and the first place in Eastern conference. Their first loss came from the match against Snezhnye Barsy on September 14-th.
As of Western conference goes, teams from Saint-Petersburg are on top. SKA-1946 are the leaders with 6 wins in 7 matches (18 points). Dinamo SPb is on the second place with 16 points.
Three games catch the eye on next week’s schedule. On Thursday, SKA travels to Avangard for a game that could see the Army Men set a new record. But it’s also a clash on the road against one of the behemoths of the Eastern Conference, a new test for Oleg Znarok and his team. Later the same day CSKA travels to Jokerit for a Western Conference match-up that promises a clash of styles beside the Gulf of Finland.
Then on Friday, Salavat Yulaev travels to Metallurg Magnitogorsk. It’s a showdown between Sergei Mozyakin and Ufa hot-shot Linus Omark and, in a season where both teams look potent on offense but occasionally struggle with gremlins at the back, it could turn out to be a wild ride in the Urals.