After winning phase one of the Euro Hockey Tour with its juniors, the Red machine keeps rolling forward. Sunday’s victory over Finland in Moscow secured the Channel 1 Cup as the national team made it six wins from six international games this season. Phase two of the competition saw Valery Bragin make his debut as head coach of the senior national team, after years of success with the juniors. And, after a shoot-out win against Sweden he celebrated with convincing triumphs over the Czechs (4-1) and Finns (5-1). Bragin, who is also behind the SKA St. Petersburg bench, took the chance to outline his philosophy for future of Team Russia: “In the third game we got closer to the kind of hockey we want to see from the team,” he said. “Different clubs have different tactics, but we want to play aggressive, attacking hockey. We couldn’t do that overnight, but by the third game a lot of it was working out for us.”
There were plenty of new faces on Russia’s roster — and that meant several players scoring their first international goals. Ak Bars’ 20-year-old forward Dmitry Voronkov was one of them, putting two past Finland’s Juho Olkinuora as Russia wrapped up top spot. Pavel Karnaukhov, another newcomer also opened his account; the 23-year-old Flames prospect scored against Finland. At the other end of the scale, Anton Burdasov’s opening goal in the 4-1 win over the Czechs was his first senior international tally and came in his 28th game for Russia. The SKA man made his full debut back in 2011-2012 as a youngster at Traktor but only now broke his duck in the international arena.
Russia wasn’t the only nation with a strong KHL presence at the Channel 1 Cup. In total, 69 players from the league were called up. Among the most notable performers were Jere Karjalainen and Oscar Lindberg. The Finn, who joined HC Sochi at the start of this season, scored twice in the opening game to lead a 4-3 win over the Czechs. Dynamo Moscow’s Lindberg also bagged a double on Saturday as Sweden defeated its Nordic neighbor 4-1.
KHL President Alexei Morozov spoke to journalists following Thursday’s meeting with club directors — and had an upbeat message. Despite concerns about the impact of the on-going pandemic on the current season, Morozov used the online press conference to say: “It seems to me that the KHL has put in a huge amount of work to protect the health of our players and the staff at our clubs. We’ve done thousands of tests, organized clean zones in the arenas and restricted the number of people who can enter them. I hope that the hardest part is over, and we will see more fans coming back to more arenas.”
The Channel 1 Cup isn’t the only international action of the month. Russia’s juniors are settling into their ‘bubble’ in Edmonton ahead of the World Championship. Before flying out, goalie Yaroslav Askarov — picked by Nashville in the first round of the 2020 NHL draft — told KHL.ru a little about how he got his start between the piping as a boy in Omsk. “When I was a kid, there were no forwards, defensemen or goalies,” he said. “Everyone skated up the ice and everyone skated back. So I used a lot of energy to score a goal and then we allowed a goal right after. I didn’t like that. I did my best to be the first man back and tried blocking shots — in my skater’s equipment. I would fall down on my knees and try to get in front of the puck.”
The coaches noticed but trying out as a goalie brought its own snag — Askarov is a right-handed catcher, and the team only had left-handed gloves. “It was exciting to try, but the equipment was for the wrong hand, so I practiced with it just a few times and it felt uncomfortable. So I went back to regular gloves and for a time I stopped shots with them.”
As fans begin to return to the arena in Nizhny Novgorod, Torpedo welcomed a special group of supporters to practice. The club invited kids from the Luch fund for disabled children to come along to a training session and meet their heroes in person. The youngsters rose to the occasion, making their own posters in support of the team, and went away with gifts donated by the likes of Damir Zhafyarov, Andrei Belevich and Sergei Goncharuk. Nadezhda Okuneva of Luch said: “We’ve been watching all of Torpedo’s games on TV this season but of course there’s a huge difference between that and seeing them in person. Today we had a chance to meet them, to chat and take photographs. It was great, and now we’re hoping that we can come back soon and watch the games here.” And when the kids come back, Zhafyarov will be looking out for them. “It’s hard to put your feelings into words after something like this,” he said. “It’s really cool for all of us. These are our future fans and we could see how much the team means to them. It’s sad that right now they can only watch us on TV, so we were delighted to see them come to practice.”