Even with the international break beckoning, there was still plenty going on. The departure of Metallurg head coach Ilya Vorobyov was the week’s biggest news, but there was also a KHL novelty as Eliezer Sherbatov became the first Israeli player to score in the league. More unusual events: SKA lost in regulation for the first time this season, and Dinamo Riga won inside 60 minutes for only the second time in 27 games.
It’s a results business, and that doesn’t leave much room for sentiment. Just ask Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s former head coach, Ilya Vorobyov. He lost his job following his team’s 1-3 defeat at home to Lada on November 2, Magnitka’s fifth loss in six games. The result left last season’s Gagarin Cup finalist in danger of dropping out of the playoff spots, and prompted the club to wield the axe.
Yet Vorobyov, who also has a role on Team Russia’s coaching staff, has been one of the most successful coaches in recent times. As assistant to Mike Keenan, then as head coach in his own right, he’s guided Metallurg to three cup finals, winning two of them. In 2016, he also became the first – and so far, only – man to take over behind the bench in mid-season and finish by winning it all. Now, fans in Magnitogorsk are hoping their team can repeat that trick this time around. Viktor Kozlov, interim head coach, got off to a winning start with an overtime success at Avtomobilist in his first game.
Israel rarely gets a look-in at the top end of the hockey world. The national team is some way down the IIHF rankings, the country’s championship is not noted as a big league, and few players have made an impact on the game.
But in the KHL, there’s a tradition of breaking new hockey boundaries, and when Eliezer Sherbatov found the net in Slovan’s 4-2 win at Ugra, he became the first Israeli international to score in the league.
Sherbatov, 26, moved to Canada with his family as a youngster. He even jokes that he got through immigration because his father promised to turn him into the next Guy Lafleur. But, unlike many players with similar back stories, he then returned to his homeland and made his senior hockey debut for Metulla in Israel’s national championship – at the age of just 13. The same season saw him gain international recognition and become the youngest ever player at an IIHF u18 championship. Why the KHL? Well, maybe that’s also down to Dad: Eliezer’s parents were born in Moscow, and even as a youngster, their boy was brought up as a lover of both Russian and Canadian hockey.
SKA finally lost a game in regulation for the first time this season when Spartak Moscow went to St. Petersburg and won 3-1. Former SKA man Alexander Dergachyov had a goal and an assist, Alexander Khokhlachyov, also once of the Army Men, got the opener, and Dmitry Kalinin, who spent five seasons beside the Neva, added an assist. SKA’s run without a loss in regulation time ended after 29 games.
Meanwhile, Dinamo Riga got its first regulation time victory since August 26 when it thumped Lokomotiv 4-0 in Yaroslavl. Miks Indrasis was the key player here, collecting two goals and an assist to take his tally to 18 (10+8) points for the season and stay one point ahead of Danny Kristo on the club’s scoring chart. It was the first regulation win in 26 games for Dinamo, but the Latvians are still waiting for their first three-pointer at home this season. That might come on November 14, when Lada visits Arena Riga.
Next week sees the first of this season’s Euro Hockey Tour events, with Finland hosting the Karjala Cup. In this Olympic year, it’s an expanded six team competition, with Canada and Switzerland joining the regular quartet of Russia, Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic. Not surprisingly, there’s a big KHL contingent in all the rosters.
Russia’s squad is drawn exclusively from the KHL, with Oleg Znarok selecting 18 of his 25 players from SKA and CSKA. It’s also a young roster – particularly between the piping, where Salavat Yulaev’s Andrei Kareyev, 22, is the oldest of three goalies. Established international stars such as Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk and Andrei Markov also get to take a rest, while young prospects such as Kirill Kaprizov and Pavel Kraskovsky have a chance to stake their claims for an Olympic call-up.
Among Russia’s rivals, there are also plenty of familiar names. Sweden has four players from Avangard – Andre Petersson, Dennis Everberg, Erik Gustafsson and Jonas Ahnelov – among 11 KHLers on its roster. The Czechs selected 13 current KHL players, including Traktor goalie Pavel Francouz, Loko defenseman Jakub Nakladal and Neftekhimik hot-shots Robin Hanzl and Andrej Nestrasil. Finland has 14 players from the league, with teen sensation Eeli Tolvanen forming part of a five-man party from Jokerit.
The Women's Hockey League season has entered its second mid-season break after back-to-back matches in Saint Petersburg. The two protagonists were the host, Dynamo Saint Peterburg, and the visitor, Skif of Nizhny Novgorod Region, and both games turned out to be tense, tight affairs. The first ended in a 1-0 victory for Dynamo, and the re-match ended with the same score, but with the Nizhny Novgorod women triumphant.
October was a good month for goalies, with Anna Prugova of Agidel (Ufa), Nadezhda Morozova of Biryusa (Krasnoyarsk), joining Dynamo's Valerya Merkusheva and Skif's Valerya Tarakanova in the list of shutout heroes.