Oleg Znarok returned to coaching with Spartak this week – and duly opened his account with a win in his first game in charge of his new club. The 56-year-old, whose achievements include three Gagarin Cups, a World Championship gold and last year’s memorable Olympic triumph, started his latest challenge in the somewhat low-key surroundings of Litvinov, Czech Republic. The occasion was an exhibition game against local team Verva, the outcome a 2-1 victory with a solid showing from Spartak’s younger players. Welcome back, coach!
Znarok’s return wasn’t the only point of interest from this week’s exhibition games. One of the clubs he represented as a player, Dinamo Riga, took part in a 38-shot shoot-out to settle its match-up against VHL team Nefteyanik. That’s a record for any shoot-out involving a KHL team. Unfortunately for Dinamo, the verdict went to the opposition. However, the Latvians can console themselves with the equivalent record in a KHL game – 36 shots in a victory over Lokomotiv in 2016/17.
Most of the summer’s big trades are done; the teams are already back in training and the bulk of the KHL’s rosters are filling up nicely. But there’s still the odd eye-catching move, and Dynamo Moscow’s capture of young forward Anton Vasilyev could be one to watch. The 21-year-old isn’t on the radar of many KHL fans; he’s yet to play a game in the competition. But he’s blazed a trail through the Junior Hockey League in recent seasons and his 247 (102+145) points from 245 games, mostly with Dynamo St. Petersburg, is an all-time record in that league. His senior debut came in last season’s VHL but his Petersburg club has no KHL affiliate. That alerted the Moscow team to the opportunity and the youngster now has the chance to show what he can do at the highest level. Watch this space …
The set-up for next season’s Women’s Hockey League was confirmed, and there’s an exciting new arrival in the competition. The Kunlun Red Star Vanke Rays, part of the Chinese franchise familiar to KHL followers, has joined the league after the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League over the summer. At a time when the debate about how to create and develop genuine pro leagues in women’s sports – not just hockey – continues, the success of our WHL in expanding to become a cross-border league is significant. And, of course, providing a high level of competition for China’s up-and-coming players is vital as the country’s women prepare for the upcoming Beijing Olympic Winter Games in 2022.
Pre-season action steps up a gear next week with the first of the summer tournaments. The action starts Friday in Beijing, where Kunlun Red Star hosts the Renaissance Cup. The competition also involves two Chinese teams from the VHL and Arizona State University’s team, featuring Beijing-born Peter Zhong among its NCAA roster. On Saturday, it’s the Sochi Hockey Open, with the host taking on SKA, Avangard, Lokomotiv, Dinamo Riga and Russia’s ‘B’ team. Further afield, Spartak takes part in the Mountfield Cup in Hradec Kralove. Starting Sunday, the Red-and-Whites face two Czech opponents, host club HC Mountfield and Dynamo Pardubice, as well as former KHL team Slovan Bratislava.