The weekend’s international duty dominated the past week, with Russia looking to unearth some stars of the future and the Czechs ending an old hoodoo. Back in the KHL, Jose Mourinho became an Avangard fan and Danis Zaripov set a new record.
The Czech Republic, led by former SKA, Atlant, Spartak and Slovan head coach Milos Riha, won the Swedish Hockey Games in Stockholm. The Czechs wrapped up top spot in the third stage of the Euro Tour with wins over Sweden (5-2) and Finland (3-1) before losing 1-3 to Russia in its third game. Amur forward Tomas Zohorna and Ak Bars goal-getter Jiri Sekac were among the key performers, while ex-Metallurg man Jan Kovar returned to the national team with a hat-trick in the win over Sweden. It was the first time in 25 years that the Czechs won this tournament.
Ilya Vorobyov named a youthful Russian roster for the tournament and saw his team take second place thanks to a shoot-out win over Finland and victory against the Czechs. Lokomotiv’s young netminder Ilya Konovalov was named as the top goalie of the tournament after backstopping both those victories: in addition to winning a shoot-out, the nerveless 20-year-old also made a crucial save from a Marek Kvapil penalty shot against the Czechs. Ilya Mikheyev of Avangard scored three goals in the tournament, opening his account at international level. Spartak’s Anatoly Nikontsev also potted his first marker for the Red Machine, while Andrei Kuzmenko’s double against the Czechs was decisive in that game.
Dinamo Riga’s fans turned Coventry, England, into a little piece of Latvia at a special exhibition game last week. More than 2,000 maroon-clad supporters came to see their heroes take on Great Britain’s national team as the country began its preparations for this year’s World Championship. It all added up to a raucous atmosphere and an entertaining evening, even though Dinamo could not reward the visiting Latvians with a victory.
Legendary soccer coach Jose Mourinho was the special guest when Avangard played SKA last week. The Portuguese, a Champions League winner with Porto and Inter Milan, visited the home team’s practice on the morning of the game and took part in the ceremonial puck drop. “It was cool to watch a new sport for me,” the ‘Special One’ said. “It was a great show and a great game. In the morning, I got the chance to meet the players and directors of Avangard, and they showed me a really warm welcome. I always enjoy coming to Russia and this time it opened up something new for me.”
Danis Zaripov is already a KHL legend. From 10 editions of the Gagarin Cup so far, he has been part of five winning teams – an incredible 50% strike rate. Last week he set a new record when he potted his 141st goal for Ak Bars, becoming the club’s top goalscorer in the KHL era. His marker early in the game against Torpedo took Zaripov past the great Alexei Morozov’s total; by the end of the evening he was already up to 142.