It was all about the international game this week: one Russian rookie reckoned it wasn’t too different from the KHL, another Russian prospect lit up the u20 tournament in the Czech Republic.
There was plenty of competition for this title as Russia iced six new faces in its roster at the Karjala Cup in Helsinki. A seventh, goalie Ilya Konovalov, also got a first international call-up but did not see any action as Russia won the tournament. Andrei Kuzmenko, now at SKA St. Petersburg, certainly did: his double against Sweden set up the 4-1 victory that secured the title for Ilya Vorobyov’s team. The forward later said that playing in the KHL was good preparation for the step up to international hockey: “I didn’t see a fundamental difference between the KHL and the Euro Hockey Tour. Sure, the game is a bit faster here, but there wasn’t a big difference between this and our game against CSKA. The main thing was that I was playing for my country, not my club, and that maybe made me a bit nervous.”
That Sweden game also brought a rare head-to-head showdown between two goalies from the same club. SKA’s Igor Shestyorkin took the win against his team-mate Magnus Hellberg; had the coaches chosen differently, we might have seen an all-CSKA goaltending duel between Ilya Sorokin and Lars Johansson.
Russia’s B team, known as the Russia Olympic Team, won the Deutschland Cup for the second year running after sweeping its opponents in Krefeld. Game one produced a repeat of February’s Olympic final, with Russia coming from behind to win 4-3 in overtime against Germany. A win over Slovakia set up a gold-medal showdown against Switzerland, and Russia won it 4-2 to take the trophy.
With little KHL hockey played last week, the main event for scouts tracking the progress of Russian prospects took place in Hodonin, Czech Republic at a four-nation U20 international tournament. Russia took second place in the competition, losing out to the Finns, and there were notable contributions from two players selected in the first round of the 2018 NHL draft. Lokomotiv’s Grigory Denisenko, a Panthers prospect, picked up five points in Russia’s 6-5 win over the Czechs. He had a hat-trick and two assists thanks to a powerful wrist shot and tricky deke, while Yaroslavl team-mate Nikolai Kovalenko had four assists. Traktor’s Vitaly Kravtsov, chosen at #9 by the Rangers, also had five points in the tournament.
The Gordie Dwyer era came to an end in Belarus with the departure of Dinamo Minsk’s head coach during his second season at the club. Dwyer, a former defenseman who had more than 100 NHL appearances from spells with the Lightning, the Rangers and the Canadiens, was head coach of the KHL’s Medvescak Zagreb from 2015-2017. He took over in Minsk after a short spell in the Swiss NLA and earned plaudits despite failing to reach last season’s playoffs as it was felt he had got the best out of some limited resources. This season, though, the team was rooted to the foot of the Western Conference and, despite an upturn in form as the international break beckoned, memories of a club record 13-game losing streak brought an end to Dwyer’s tenure. Andrei Sidorenko, previously with Spartak and Amur, is the new head coach; Andrei Kovalev, well-known for his success as a forward with Krefeld in Germany’s DEL, returns to his native city as an assistant.
There’s one new import defenseman on the scene as Tobias Viklund returns to the KHL with Kunlun Red Star. The Swede, 32, has previously represented Avtomobilist, Lada and Ugra as well as playing in Red Star’s debut season back in 2016-17. He began this season in Germany with Kolner Haie before being drafted in to reinforce the blue line for Kunlun. Elsewhere, Amur terminated its contract with Czech goalie Libor Kasik after a disappointing start to his KHL career saw the 26-year-old lose all eight of the games he played, with an SVG of 86.6%. Canadian forward Zach Boychuk may also be moving on soon: Severstal placed the player on waivers for the second time in eight days. Boychuk, who has 127 NHL appearances, mostly with the Hurricanes, scored 4 (2+2) points in 25 games this season.