It was the first time the KHL had played on September 7 since 2011. That day, as Salavat Yulaev and Atlant contested the Opening Cup in Ufa, news filtered through of the tragedy in Yaroslavl. Since then, the date had been kept blank as a memorial to the Lokomotiv team that was lost when its plane crashed on take-off.
This year, hockey returned on September 7, but memories of Lokomotiv remain painfully fresh. Teams marked the occasion with a moment’s silence; tributes were on display at many arenas. And several of the players involved in Friday’s games reflected on their personal connections to the tragedy.
Spartak’s Andrei Kuteikin, then a Salavat Yulaev player, had just scored the opening goal of the 2011-12 campaign when the news reached him. Before today’s game against Kunlun Red Star, he reflected on that day. “Of course, we knew nothing of the tragedy when we started the game. But then one of the guys came back from the penalty box and told us that something had gone badly wrong with Lokomotiv,” he said.
“At first I couldn’t take it all in. We went back to the locker room and tried to make sense of it all. We put the television on. At first there was hope – perhaps they’d made an emergency landing, maybe it wasn’t as bad as it looked.
“In hockey, we’re all one big family. And that made it even harder to take. Even today, that pain is still there. This year we have games on Sep. 7 for the first time. But in Yaroslavl you will always have that peculiar feeling, understanding that once a different team played here, and now it’s already completely different.”
Jokerit’s winning start continued, with a comfortable victory over Admiral completing a sweep of the Far Eastern teams and making it three out of three for the Finns.
It didn’t take long for the home team to edge in front. Anton Krasotkin failed to hold on to the puck and Marko Anttila was able to kick it on to Mika Niemi’s skate for the opening goal of the game in the third minute. But Admiral responded quickly as the Streltsov brothers (Alexander and Vasily) set up Kirill Dyakov to make it 1-1 two minutes later.
That was as good as it got for the visitor. There were plenty of attempts at both ends, but Admiral found it tough to solve Ryan Zapolski in the home net while Jokerit always seemed to have an extra bit of guile about its offense. That paid off on 13 minutes when Geoff Platt unleashed a one-timer to restore Jokerit’s lead and claim his first goal for his new club.
The second period saw Jokerit jump to a comfortable 4-1 lead on two power play goals. Sami Lepisto picked up two assists, first feeding Niklas Jensen for a slapshot to the top shelf, then setting up a one-timer from Sakari Manninen that evoked memories of Eeli Tolvanen last season. Manninen moves on to three goals for the season and might have added another late on had his shot mot hit Krasotkin’s helmet and bounced to safety.
That was a rare scoring chance for Jokerit in the final frame as Admiral threw everything forward. The shot count was 12-2 in the visitor’s favor, but there was no further scoring. Zapolski, busy between the pipes, finished the day with 34 saves. Jokerit steps out in front in the Western Conference.
Ak Bars had to battle to get past Barys in an entertaining clash in Kazan.
The Kazakh team came into the game full of confidence after beginning its season with a 6-1 thrashing of Neftekhimik, while Ak Bars had stuttered by its standards in the opening week of action. In the first period, that showed. Barys took the lead through 22-year-old forward Alikhan Asetov, who got his first KHL goal after punishing Andrei Pedan’s error in bringing the puck out of the zone.
Ak Bars had a goal ruled out on a video review late in the first frame, but appeared to take control of the game after the intermission. Paul Postma tied it up, then two goals in the 39th minute from defensemen Andrei Markov and Rafael Batyrshin opened a lead for the host.
Barys wasn’t quite done, though. Kevin Dallman made it 2-3 with more than 10 minutes to play and even after Anton Lander put a fourth into the empty net, the visitor found another score as Darren Dietz made it 3-4. There was time – just – for one final onslaught, but Ak Bars survived to record its second win of the season.
Something had to give in Nizhny as two teams with winning starts went head-to-head in their third game of the season. Vityaz had looked a tough proposition on the road, while Torpedo’s never-say-die spirit earned it a surprise win over SKA.
Summer signings Marek Hrivik and Miro Aaltonen have been at the heart of Vityaz’ improvement this season and it was no surprise that they combined for the Finn to put his team ahead late in the first period.
But Torpedo has already proved that it has the heart to fight back in adversity and turned the game around in the second frame. Mikhail Varnakov, back in Nizhny Novgorod after a spell at Dynamo last season, did the business with two power play goals (the second in a 5-on-3 situation) to give Torpedo the lead.
In the third period, the home team extended that lead. Vladimir Galuzin added a third before Swedish D-man Philip Holm got his first ever KHL goal to seal the deal with five minutes to play. Torpedo joins Avangard and Avtomobilist in a share of top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Neftekhimik recovered from Wednesday’s horror show against Barys to record its first win of the season. For Dinamo, though, the search for victory continues after a third successive loss.
Neither team came into the game on a high and the early exchanges were dominated by penalties. Dinamo’s Kristian Khenkel was the fourth player sent to the sidelines in the first 10 minutes, and he was punished further when Damir Sharipzyanov put Neftekhimik in front from the power play.
The home side’s Finnish connection clicked early in the second period: Juuso Puustinen fed Joonas Nattinen and that was 2-0. Another Finn, Teemu Pulkkinen, got a goal back for Dinamo in the third, but Neftekhimik held on to edge the win.
Robert Rosen, Sochi’s overtime hero against Kunlun on Wednesday, led the way once again with two goals in his team’s victory over Amur.
The 31-year-old Swede, who arrived in Sochi from Vaxjo Lakers, gave Sochi an early lead with a power play goal in the third minute. He converted a pass from Jyrki Jokipakka for the only goal of the opening frame. However, Amur laid siege to the home net, firing in 14 shots at Dmitry Shikin without finding a way to goal.
That profligacy was punished in the second stanza. Sochi brought its offense to the table and rattled in three unanswered goals. It wasn’t that Amur was unable to generate opportunities; it was more that Sochi was more clinical in its execution. Jokipakka added the second just after the midway point and Rosen collected an assist after Stanislav Bocharov tucked away the rebound from a Nikita Shchitov shot. Then came another power play, and a second goal for Rosen off another Jokipakka assist.
Amur finally got on the scoreboard through Maxim Kondratyev with five minutes left, but the game was already gone.
Beaten in its first two games, and up against an opponent buoyed by back-to-back wins, Red Star was the outsider in this game. But closer inspection of the Chinese team’s performance in Sochi on Wednesday showed that this was a more competitive outfit than the one that finished last season – and in Moscow Kunlun proved it.
As in midweek, much of the game was a war of attrition. Chances were hard to come by, and the scores were blank after 40 minutes. Once again, Red Star scored first: with 10 minutes to go, Ville Lajunen scored against his former club to convert a power play. Spartak appealed for offside, the video review dragged on for several minutes, but ultimately the officials gave the thumbs up.
Olli Palola, another summer signing, added a second after Patrik Lundh’s pass found him in space and Kunlun was poised to celebrate its first victory of the campaign. There was a moment’s alarm late on when Alexander Khokhlachyov pulled one back with 99 seconds left to play, but Red Star held on for a morale-boosting success.