Danis Zaripov, the oldest active player in the KHL, is now the second highest goalscorer in Russian hockey history. On Saturday, he netted the opener for Ak Bars in its SO victory in Nizhny Novgorod, celebrating his 900th career appearance with his 429th goal. That tally moves him ahead of Soviet legend Boris Mikhailov (428) with only Sergei Mozyakin’s record ahead of him.
Zaripov has certainly scored nicer tallies, but they all count after all, and a helpful bounce off a skate gave the 40-year-old veteran his second of the season.
The Chelyabinsk native will hardly top his 42-goal 2006-2007 campaign, but does it matter if this year’s effort will end with a sixth Gagarin Cup title? The Kazan franchise is currently tied with Salavat Yulaev in the East’s sixth position, and they will have plenty of weapons against the other top Eastern Conference sides. Including a 40-year-old veteran.
Danis Zaripov was born on Mar 26, 1981, in Chelyabinsk, a hockey hotbed that produced many hockey world stars. However, the future five-time KHL champion, didn’t start with the more popular Traktor. He started playing for Mechel, today Chelmet and Traktor’s farm team in the VHL. Mechel has probably been less productive than its fellow citizen side, yet has produced several high-level players, like former Gagarin Cup champion Evgeny Medvedev, SKA’s forward Anton Burdasov, or Avangard’s forward Nikolai Prokhorkin.
With Mechel, Zaripov had his debut in the top-flight Russian league back in the far 1997-1998 season, before moving to the WHL one year later. However, Zaripov only played one year in North America, returning to Mechel in 1999. However, the Chelyabinsk native is more known for his stints with Ak Bars and Metallurg. Zaripov moved to Kazan for the first time in the 2001 offseason. The then-promising forward scored a modest three goals in his first campaign in Tatarstan, but the tallies rose to 16 one year later.
In Kazan, Zaripov became a hit for Russian hockey fans. His play on a line with current KHL President Alexei Morozov and former Gagarin Cup champion Sergei Zinovyev in the famous ZZM line was a beauty for the fans and Zinetula Bilyaletdinov’s strongest weapon. Zaripov and Ak Bars won their first Russian title before the KHL era, in 2006. In that same year, the veteran had his first appearance at the IIHF World Championship in Riga, Latvia. In the early days of the KHL, Zaripov and Ak Bars were still the team to beat in Russia, and the dynamic duo with Morozov granted most of the success needed for the League’s first two editions.
Zaripov ended up with another two years in Kazan. Even if Kazan wasn’t as successful as the very first years, they were still a contending side, with plenty of goals and points coming from Zaripov himself. Moreover, he was part of the Russian national team that won the IIHF WC gold medal in 2008 in Quebec and in 2009 in Switzerland. However, after 12 years in Tatarstan, two Gagarin Cups, and one Russian Superleague title, Zaripov left Kazan and signed with Metallurg in the 2013 offseason.
It was a bit unexpected, but Zaripov moved to Metallurg and returned to the Chelyabinsk region. In the Southern Urals, Zaripov was again part of a superb troika, this time with Czech Jan Kovar and another KHL record holder — Sergei Mozyakin. The Steelers won two titles in four years, in 2014 and 2016, and Danis Zaripov established another record for the most Gagarin Cup titles — a record that he will further improve later.
Right now, Mozyakin is the Russian hockey all-time top sniper, and it Zaripov’s merit is huge in this accomplishment as well. More renowned as a goal-scorer, Zaripov collected an impressive 177 assists in his four-year tenure with the Steelers. After his triumphs in Magnitogorsk, however, Captain Tatarstan decided to return to Kazan in 2017.
“This is a good organization and a team that always aims high and battles to win the cup each year,” he told Ak Bars’ official website. “That’s what encouraged me to come back. My home is here, my family is here, we’ve already moved everything back. I can say that I have everything in Kazan.”
His resilience and faith to his roots were awarded — in 2018, Zaripov became the first (and so far only) player with five Gagarin Cup titles. He has also skated in eight KHL All-Star Games, won three gold medal at the IIHF World Championship level, and accumulated several individual accolades in an irripetible career. In 2021 offseason, after renewing his ties with Ak Bars for a further year, Zaripov announced that the current campaign is his last dance in professional hockey.
“I moved to Kazan 20 years ago,” he told the Kazan side’s website. “I’m ready to do anything I can to celebrate this anniversary in a worthy way — with another title. I’m sure that our team has everything it needs to reach this goal.”
Zaripov just became the second all-time sniper in Russian hockey — what about improving his record as Gagarin Cup champion?