‘The Great One’ came to Shanghai for Kunlun Red Star’s home opener on Sunday. Gretzky is an ambassador for the Chinese club and was guest of honor as the team took on Dinamo Riga. Off the ice, there’s been some impressive progress: where attendances for games in Shanghai once struggled to reach four figures, almost 4,000 came along to see Jussi Tapola lead his team for the first time in the People’s Republic. On the ice, though, there’s still work to do. Red Star battled well, but slipped to a 2-4 loss thanks to Dinamo’s superior finishing.
One of the surest signs of autumn is news of the first coaching casualty of the season. This year’s sack race was won by Sibir’s Vladimir Yurzinov, who lost his job at the weekend. Last season, Yurzinov arrived in Novosibirsk and inspired a streak that almost secured an unlikely playoff place for his team. This time around, though, six consecutive losses tested the patience of the club’s management. Alexander Andrievsky replaces him, but his first game on Sunday brought yet another loss, 2-3 against Torpedo.
Ak Bars showed its champion class with a battling victory in Ufa against Salavat Yulaev. The rivalry between the two teams is well known: it encompasses local pride, regional identity (Tatarstan vs Bashkiria) and, usually, two of the high flyers of the Eastern Conference. Even with that history, though, this game was something special. For two periods, it was all about the host. Salavat Yulaev produced some fine hockey to open a 4-1 lead. Then came the fight back: three unanswered goals in the third period, with the ageless Danis Zaripov tying it up to send the game to overtime. Ak Bars prevailed in the shoot-out, Salavat left wondering about the one that got away.
Magnitogorsk and Chelyabinsk are near neighbors with proud hockey traditions. And when Metallurg met Traktor on Saturday, sparks flew. The game produced 11 goals, including a couple of classics, before Traktor edged a 6-5 verdict. From Wojtek Wolski’s brilliant pass, lying prone on the ice yet still feeding Iiro Pakarinen for Magnitka’s first, to Richard Gynge’s winner, courtesy of a huge screen from Igor Polygalov, this was a game to savor.
Barys’ summer signing, Czech goalie Dominik Hrachovina, had to wait before getting his chance to impress. And when it came, it was in difficult circumstances. Brought into Sunday’s game at home to Ak Bars with the scoreline at 1-3, he blanked the visitor for the third period and five minutes of overtime as Roman Starchenko inspired a fightback. Into the shoot-out, though, Hrachovina’s fortunes abruptly reversed. Ak Bars scored its first two attempts and Andrei Skabelka opted to recall Sergei Kudryavtsev for the rest of the encounter. Kudryavtsev, now rested, won his three duels; Matt Frattin gave the host the verdict.
There’s only one team left unbeaten as we go into Monday’s game. Avtomobilist kept going where the likes of Avangard and Torpedo could not this week.
The Barys forward rarely grabs the headlines in Astana, where he has long been on the undercard beneath big ticket stars like Brandon Bochenski, Nigel Dawes & Co. But his goal and assist in Sunday’s shoot-out win over Ak Bars stretched his productive streak to 12 games – six this season and six last. Over that time, he’s delivered 10 goals and six assists. You have to go back to January 11 and a 1-3 loss at Admiral to find the last game where Starchenko left the ice without a point to his name. Avangard is the next team to try to stop him on Tuesday.
For HC Sochi, heading to its game at SKA, training proved better than coaching. The team bus was caught up in a minor collision, forcing the team to use the St. Petersburg metro to get to the arena. There was no delay to the game, but Sochi found that SKA was on the right tracks as the home side won 3-1.