GP: 401; W: 185; SO: 31, GAA: 2.31, S%: 91.5
Clubs: MVD, Dynamo Moscow, Traktor, Slovan, Medvescak
The MVD team that overcame the odds to reach the 2010 Gagarin Cup final was not built around a bunch of star players. But many of that group went on to become true KHL legends. Head coach Oleg Znarok tops the list, of course, going on to win three Gagarin Cups and Olympic gold. But among the players, two of his roster feature in our ’12 from 12’ series. Earlier, we caught up with forward Matt Ellison; today it’s the turn of goalie Michael Garnett.
Garnett came to Russia before the advent of the KHL, joining Neftekhimik despite — by his own admission — not being entirely sure how to pronounce his new team’s name. When the KHL started, Garnett went to MVD. His first season was a struggle; the team didn’t make the playoffs and Garnett’s own form was unimpressive. At a bigger club, that might have been the end, but the management at MVD were able to offer second chances. Znarok remained in post, Garnett stayed between the piping and the rest was history.
“We were fortunate to keep our jobs and all the players were battling for their coaches, for the team,” he said in a recent interview with KHL.ru. “That second year at MVD was the most memorable of my career. If it hadn’t worked out, it might have been the end of my time in Russia ... But everything came off: we had an amazing regular season and ended up losing in game seven of the final. That was painful but it was an exciting time.”
After that sensational silver medal, MVD merged with Dynamo Moscow. Garnett played one season with the Blue-and-Whites before joining Traktor Chelyabinsk. He was attracted by the promise of an exciting new team that aimed to be a real contender for the big prize — and played his part in making that happen. The goalie’s first season saw the team top the regular season table, with Garnett’s GAA dropping below 2.00 for the first time in his pro career. A year later, he was in his second Gagarin Cup Final, this time taking on his old boss Znarok and losing out in six games against a Dynamo team full of familiar faces from the MVD era.
“My old Dynamo team had won the cup the year before and it really hurt to lose to them,” Garnett recalled. “But, at the same time, although it was heartbreaking to lose, I was happy for my former team-mates, they’re great guys.”
That Traktor team nurtured some explosive talents — youngsters Evgeny Kuznetsov and Valery Nichushkin both featured strongly in the run to the final. But there was another explosion in Chelyabinsk at the time — and one that jolted Garnett out of bed.
“My light fixtures were swaying back and forth, I was just terrified,” Garnett told the Canadian Press. “I saw a huge streak across the sky and I didn’t know what was going on.”
It turned out to be a meteor, smashing into the atmosphere at an estimated speed of 54,000 km/h before exploding over the Urals in one of the more dramatic alarm calls of the Canadian’s career. From celestial objects and a stellar season, Traktor also fell swiftly back to Earth. In 2013/14 the team missed the playoffs. Garnett returned for a fourth campaign, helped the team back to post-season and recorded his best save ration in his KHL career (92.6%) but found himself out of work after turning down a fifth season in Chelyabinsk.
Eager to remain in the KHL, Garnett made a surprising play. A Tweet, in Russian, alerted clubs to his availability and landed a deal with Slovan. Next it was Medvescak, via a spell in Switzerland, as Garnett completed 400 KHL games. That season in Zagreb was his swansong in the league; subsequently he headed to England and combined playing studying as he completed an MBA.
The next steps are still under planning, but the goalie is certain about the importance that Russia played in his career. From his arrival with a handful of NHL appearances to his current status as one of the All-Time stars of our league, Garnett credits the KHL with a lot.
“I’m happy that I devoted so much of my career to Russia. It was a second chance for me to play at the top level,” he concluded. “When I was in the NHL, I wasn’t ready for it, emotionally and mentally. But those years in Russia changed my life. I started to enjoy the game again and I got a chance to kinda rewrite who I was.”