SOCHI HOCKEY OPEN
SKA St. Petersburg 5 Kunlun Red Star 0
Russian hockey has been gripped by the Vedro-Challenge this summer – a ‘pass-it-on’ game where the country’s players film themselves shooting pucks into a bucket (‘vedro’ in Russian) then challenge their buddies to do it better. The idea has caught on, and while our players were warming up for this game a group of teenagers showed off their bucket skills next to the ice.
On the ice, though, it was all about finding the net. SKA’s big summer signing Nail Yakupov needed just 34 seconds to grab his first goal for our opponent. Yakupov was the #1 pick in the 2012 NHL draft, but despite 350 games across the Atlantic, the Neftekhimik graduate never quite delivered on that promise. His return to the KHL highlights the depth of the challenge that Red Star faces in its bid to establish hockey in China. That’s something of a ‘bucket list’ task, a once in a lifetime opportunity to create something truly unique.
If Yakupov is a newcomer to the KHL, we faced a very familiar face at the other end of the ice. Magnus Hellberg, our goalie last season, is now playing for SKA. During his time with Red Star, he earned an Olympic call-up with team Sweden and then finished the season collecting a World Championship gold medal in Copenhagen.
To achieve all that – and then secure a trade to one of the KHL’s biggest clubs – while playing for a team that has only existed for two seasons clearly shows Hellberg’s qualities. But it also highlights the way in which our team is taken seriously around the hockey world.
Unfortunately for us, Hellberg’s qualities denied Kunlun a goal in this game, while SKA’s powerful offense eventually eased to a 5-0 victory. For head coach Jussi Tapola, the problems all came at the start then Hellberg shut the door in the later stages, stopping all 20 of the shots he faced.
“There was only one team on the ice in the first period, and they were wearing blue,” the Finn admitted. “We let them score cheap, quick goals and the game was over. In the second period we were better and if we had scored on our power plays we might have turned it around. But that didn’t happen.”
There was also news of a new goalie joining our ranks: Ivan Nalimov, previously with Admiral and latterly with Salavat Yulaev is now with the club. Of course, having only just joined up, it’s unlikely we’ll see him in action this week, but his arrival provides competition for Alexander Lazushin, today’s starting netminder. And competition for places helps drive any team forward.
So, despite a heavy loss, there are reasons for encouragement as our pre-season unfolds. And we can look forward to getting right back into action tomorrow with our next game against Lokomotiv.