The Grand Final gets underway with plenty of pomp in Tatarstan, its all change for Znarok and Kovalchuk, while Gordie Dwyer signs a new deal in Minsk.

Cosmonauts, rally drivers and Galiyev at the double

Three years after its last Cup Final appearance, Ak Bars was ready to put on a show for 2018. When the Gagarin Cup touched down at Kazan’s rail station early on Saturday morning, it was greeted by a high-profile delegation that included Ildar Shaisultanov, a renowned driver on the KAMAZ rally team that contests the Dakar and Silk Route races. A committed Ak Bars fan, and occasional amateur hockey player, Shaisultanov was the natural choice to deliver the trophy to the Tatneft Arena ahead of the opening clash between the Kazan team and CSKA Moscow.

Eve of the Final – Gagarin Cup Heads for Kazan

Gagarin Cup lands in Kazan

Another high-flying hockey fan was on hand for the ceremonial puck drop – cosmonaut Alexander Samokutyayev, one of very few men to watch a Gagarin Cup Final from orbit when he was stationed on the ISS during 2011 series between Salavat Yulaev and Atlant. Samokutyayev admitted that he might have been a hockey star rather than a spaceman – heaven and ice were the twin passions of his youth – but the call of the skies was too strong to resist.

With the fanfares over, the action on the ice was settled by Stanislav Galiyev. His two goals gave Ak Bars a hard-fought 2-1 victory over CSKA in a fast-paced opening game. A good start, but the 26-year-old is ready for much more. “Now we need to make the dream come true and win that cup,” he said.

Galiyev grabs the goals. Playoffs, Final. April 14

“Now we need to make the dream come true!” Key players shared their thoughts

The final continues this afternoon in Kazan (face-off 1900 Moscow time) before moving to Moscow for games three and four on Wednesday and Friday (both face-offs 1930).

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Kovalchuk – no KHL, no young stars

Ilya Kovalchuk is looking for a move back to North America – but the two-time Gagarin Cup winner, World and Olympic Champion is confident that Russian hockey is in good hands with the KHL. Kovi, whose career began in the Superleague era, has spent five full seasons with SKA and is hugely impressed with how the sporting landscape in Russia has changed.

In an exclusive interview with KHL.ru, the star forward said: “We have some great young guys coming through: look at Kaprizov, Shalunov, Shumakov, Gusev... A huge number of guys that no one would have known about before, had there been no KHL, with that organization. Remember the Superleague? I left when I was 18, and it was in ruins. There were just four places in the whole of Moscow where you could play, training a seven in the morning... That's not serious.

“Now we've made huge progress... and in only ten years. I must say thank you to those people who did the work when creating the League. God willing, it will continue to grow.”

Ilya Kovalchuk: “Thank you for creating the KHL!”

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Znarok steps down

SKA head coach Oleg Znarok will not be leading team Russia to the upcoming World Championship in Denmark. The Russian Hockey Federation announced during the week that Znarok’s long-term assistant with the national team, Ilya Vorobyov, would take charge of the team in Copenhagen with the mastermind of February’s Olympic triumph continuing to serve in a consulting role. Russia also announced that Igor Nikitin, currently leading CSKA’s bid to win the Gagarin Cup Final, and former Lokomotiv head coach Alexei Kudashov will join the staff ahead of next month’s tournament.

Vorobyov, who began the season as head coach of Metallurg Magnitogorsk, took charge of his first international game on Saturday when Russia’s B team won 2-0 in a EuroChallenge game in Norway. Igor Shestyorkin (SKA) backstopped Russia to victory, while second-period goals from Alexander Dergachyov (Spartak) and Alexander Yelesin (Lokomotiv) secured the win.

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Building work in Belarus

Dinamo Minsk missed out on the playoffs but agreed an extended contract with Canadian head coach Gordie Dwyer. Unusual? Sure. But at Dinamo Minsk there’s a plan in place that runs deeper than success over a single season.

The long-term aim is to reduce the team’s dependence on imports and provide a showcase for the best young Belarusian talents. Ultimately, a strong Dinamo in the KHL should lead to a strong Belarus team in international play. As Dwyer explained in an interview with KHL.ru: “Our focus is to develop local talent and support the Belarus national team, so we want to have the best available Belarusian players. It was a season of transition for Dinamo, moving toward a team with fewer imports. This situation placed more responsibility on the shoulders of home-grown players such as, for example, Yegor Sharangovich, who played very well and had a good season for a young player. We’ll probably have the same structure in place next season, and we are building a team brick by brick.”

Gordie Dwyer: It was a season of transition for Minsk

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All-Stars signed up for Tatarstan

Saturday was not just the start of the Gagarin Cup Final in Kazan. Amid all the fanfare and excitement around the KHL’s climax, there was also some business to be done. And that meant signing off on the decision to stage the 2019 Week of Hockey Stars across three cities in Tatarstan. A meeting between KHL boss Dmitry Chernyshenko and the President of the Republic of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov, completed the formalities and gave the signal to begin preparations for January’s ground-breaking festival.

For the first time, the action will be shared between different locations. All-Star events will be held in Nizhnekamsk, Almetyevsk and Kazan itself. And Chernyshenko is expecting something special next year. “I hope this great festive occasion will linger in the memory for a long time,” he said. “And I hope that Tatarstan will set some new records that will be difficult to surpass. We intend to raise the bar very high.”

Signed and sealed! Tatarstan to host 2019 Week of Hockey Stars

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Kharlamov cup finals kicked off. JHL week in review

First two games of Kharlamov cup finals season 2017/18 are in the books. Loko won first game in shootout, final goal score by Nikolai Kovalenko. SKA-1946 took the second game 3:2 with series tied before Saint-Petersburg matches. Third and fourth games in the final series will take place 18-th and 19-th of april.

April 18-th, 19-th and 21-st Russian Student hockey league team will play against JHL teams – Russkiye Vityazi, Krylia Sovetov and HC Kapitan respectively. These matches will be important step for SHL team before Student Hockey Challenge and World Cup of College Hockey.

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Andy Potts Andy Potts
exclusive for khl.ru

Related clubs

Ak Bars (Kazan) Ak Bars (Kazan)
Dinamo (Minsk) Dinamo (Minsk)
Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl) Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl)
SKA (Saint Petersburg) SKA (Saint Petersburg)
Spartak (Moscow) Spartak (Moscow)
CSKA (Moscow) CSKA (Moscow)

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