Saint Petersburg (17:00)
Nizhny Novgorod (18:00)
Saint Petersburg (19:30)
After four losses in six games, some fans were already desperate and asking for Dmirty Kvartalnov and his players’ heads. Things took a turn for the worse during the game with Kunlun Red Star: A confident three-goal lead after the first period morphed into a 3-4 defeat by the final buzzer. A cold shower invigorated Ak Bars — five straight wins over CSKA and Salavat Yulaev followed.
But if looking at the regular season as a whole, Ak Bars never really became a stable team, which kept them from fighting for the conference lead. The most devastating defeat for the Kvartalnov’s men was a 0-5 against Traktor in Chelyabinsk, as well as losses to Sibir and Admiral. Kazan’s power play units were the biggest disappointment in the regular season, ranking third from bottom (with a 14.4% realization rate) over — again — Sibir and Admiral.
As a result, Dmitry Kvartalov’s squad finished fourth in the East, only 0.1% behind Salavat Yulaev. Kazan’s first-round opponent was Avangard, which won the first three games of the series. At 0-3, Ak Bars rallied and took two games, and players and coaches were seriously talking about a repeat of the epic SKA’s comeback back in the 2014-2015 season, but it didn’t happen as the Hawks closed the series in game six.
52 games, 38 (14+24) points, −2
The star forward was a big hit in Kazan, quickly becoming the team’s top scorer and sniper. He quickly found a common ground with Artyom Galimov, and the combination looked terrifying in their best games. In some games, Kagarlitsky’s unorthodox actions and technical prowess directly converted into points for Ak Bars — just remember the assist to Kristian Khenkel’s OT GWG against Vityaz.
52 games, 34 (13+21) points, +1
The American blueliner needed some time to adapt after his arrival at Ak Bars, but he played better and better each game at both ends of the ice. He struggled in the first playoffs games, but he was one of the best in the fourth and fifth games of the series against the Hawks. Even when Kvartalnov had to move him on offense, Kampfer didn’t get lost and looked good: He scored the OT game-winning goal in game five against Avangard on a powerplay stretch.
49 games, 13 (9+4) points, +6
This Ak Bars player made the most progress in the 2021/2022 season — a personal record in points in the regular season (8+4), the fourth place among the team’s forwards in terms of goals differential and his first KHL hat-trick. Safonov scored Ak Bars’ first and second goals in the home game against Magnitka on Dec 27, then added an OT tally to complete his treble.
Dmitry Kvartalnov couldn’t lift his first Gagarin Cup with Ak Bars either, although he blatantly blurred only last season: two years ago, he had a solid first round (after the playoffs were stopped), in the 2021 Gagarin Cup his team reached the Eastern Conference finals, against against Avangard. But the veteran coach was never able to outplay Bob Hartley. It is already known that Oleg Znarok, Olympic champion and three-time Gagarin Cup winner, will lead Ak Bars in the new season.
The skirmish with Metallurg in Kazan turned out to be very bright — three and a half minutes before the final hooter, Ak Bars was trailing 1:3. Many spectators were eager to get home, but they probably regretted their decision later: Safonov scored his second goal of the night, cutting Metallurg’s lead to a minimum, and at just 64 seconds to go Par Lindholm evened the score. In OT, Safonov scored a hat-trick to get the remaining fans off their feet at the Kazan arena.
Kvartalnov is known for his great ability in working with the youth, and last season Ak Bars had 12 U23 players in the roster. Seven played no more than ten games; we’ve already talked about Safonov leaving Daniil Zhuravlyov, Galimov, Dmitry Voronkov, and Nikolai Kovalenko. The latter averaged 17 minutes per game, played a lot on the power play but scored only 15 (6+9) points in 35 games. Galimov, Zhuravlyov and Voronkov were a fixture in the team’s lineup and all three had a good season. The first produced 23 (8+15) points in 53 games, which was maybe a little bit under the expectations, the second had the best differential in the team (plus-11 along with Dmitry Yudin), and the third was good on puck battles and as a screener.
Kazan missed the Gagarin Cup so much that they were able to snatch the most valuable offseason items. First, they traded Vadim Shipachyov and Vyacheslav Voynov from Dynamo Moscow, both top-level players. Second, Avangard’s Kirill Semenov filled the deficit at the center-forward position. Thirdly, Alexander Radulov is expected to sign with the team later this summer. The club has not officially announced the move (just like Znarok) but is already working on developing its new star. On paper, the Tatarstan capital’s team has a very promising roster, so it will be interesting to follow Ak Bars as the season progresses.