British hockey fans get a chance to have a look at KHL stars in person on Wednesday when Dinamo Riga plays an exhibition game against Team GB on Wednesday. Back home, it was a big week for goalies: a shut-out record for CSKA, a landmark for Ilya Konovalov and a GWG for Joni Ortio.
Wednesday sees an unusual exhibition game when Dinamo Riga takes on Great Britain’s national team. Girts Ankipans’ team will take to the ice in Coventry as part of the home country’s preparations for its first World Championship Elite Pool appearance since 1994. And the clash has captured the imagination of local hockey fans, with a full house expected at the 3,000-capacity arena. Britain’s head coach, Pete Russell, is looking forward to a thorough examination for his roster, which is drawn from the Elite League. “It will be a massive test for us but I know the players will be excited for the challenge,” he told Ice Hockey UK. “The truth is we have to learn to play against high speed because we will have to handle this in Pool A. Getting up to that speed and speed of thought will be the biggest challenge for us, but Riga provides a great test for us to face those qualities.”
CSKA’s young defenseman Alexander Romanov has had a busy start to the year. He was one of the stars of Russia’s World Junior campaign last month and now he’s got his first KHL goal. Romanov scored in his team’s 5-4 win over Ak Bars, a re-match of last year’s Gagarin Cup final, and it proved to be something of a family affair. Ak Bars head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov is the 19-year-old’s grandfather.
The Army Men are still out in front this season and its winning record owes much to a miserly defense. Last week’s 4-0 win at Severstal was CSKA’s 18th shut-out of the season – setting a new KHL record. Goaltending duties have been shared between 23-year-old Ilya Sorokin and 31-year-old Swede Lars Johansson, with both players collecting nine shut-outs apiece. If it’s true that defenses win championships, this could be the year when CSKA finally lands the Gagarin Cup it has sought for so long.
Shut-out records aren’t just a Moscow thing this season. Lokomotiv’s 20-year-old goaltending sensation Ilya Konovalov posted his 10thblank of the season. That keeps him ahead of CSKA’s pair and makes him only the third goalie in KHL history to produce 10 shut-outs in regular season play (Alexei Murygin and Ilya Sorokin achieved this in 2015-16). Konovalov is the youngest goalie to reach this mark; only 22 players have managed 10 or more shut-outs (including playoffs) since the 1996-7 season.
Sometimes, goalies don’t just stop the opposition. Joni Ortio claimed the winning goal for Vityaz during his team’s 3-2 success at Traktor. The incident came on a delayed penalty, with Traktor icing six skaters. A misjudged pass back to the point slipped away from its intended target and evaded the efforts of the home team to retrieve the puck as it travelled up the ice and into the net. Ortio, as the last Vityaz player to touch the puck, was credited with the goal and became the fourth goalie to score in the KHL. The previous goalscoring goalies were Ilya Proskuryakov (for Metallurg at Ak Bars in 2009), Edgars Masalskis (for Dinamo Riga at Amur in 2010) and Vitaly Yeremeyev (for Barys at Sibir in 2013). Of those, Proskuryakov was the only one to score with his own shot, rather than via a defensive error.
A further 15 KHL players have been selected by their countries to play at this week’s Euro Hockey Tour in Sweden. The host nation called up five players: SKA goalie Magnus Hellberg, Metallurg forward Dennis Rasmussen and defensemen Klas Dahlback (CSKA), Philip Holm (Torpedo) and Viktor Loov (Jokerit). Finland selected Neftekhimik’s duo of Joonas Nattinen and Mikael Ruohomaa, along with Metallurg forward Iiro Pakarinen and Sibir hitman Jukka Peltola. Avangard defenseman Ville Pokka completes the KHL contingent for the Leijonat. Milos Riha chose defensemen Adam Polasek (Neftekhimik), Marek Hrbas (Amur) and Ondrej Vitasek (Kunlun Red Star), plus forward Jiri Sekac (Ak Bars) and Tomas Zohorna (Amur) for the Czech roster.