Tag Archives: Lev Praha

KHL loses three teams, finds three replacements elsewhere

One day you’re up, fighting for cup victory in game seven, and the next day you’re gone.

Well, to be less dramatic: it took a few weeks for Lev Praha of the Russian KHL to start gasping for life. First, they lost to Mike Keenan-led Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Gagarin Cup finals. Now comes the news its shareholder owners Yevgeni Myshkovskii and Petr Speychal haven’t got enough in the kitty to continue. The club’s budget last season said the club needed $40 million (Canadian) to operate.

According to news out of Prague, no such money is forthcoming, and the club will have to fold.

The owners issued a statement forthwith, denying they are quitting. They are dealing with the situation, they said, and next Monday would be the deadline for a definitive answer. Until then, the owners added in an official statement, all news about the club’s demise are pure speculation.

As (wrongly) attributed to Mark Twain, and paraphrased, news of their death was greatly exaggerated. Except, the reports come from a region known for yet another pearl of wisdom: don’t believe any rumours until they’ve been officially denied.

Just to make matters more involved for the KHL, the venerable Spartak Moscow is headed to the poorhouse, too. In addition, Donbass Donetsk won’t be able to play because of the tense political (and military) situation in Ukraine. Donetsk, after all, is one of the neuralgic points in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

Here’s the main issue: for whatever reason, Russian oil and natural gas giant Gazprom has decided to cut its epenses on professional hockey in half. Gazprom just happens to be KHL’s main sponsor. To what degree sponsoring the KHL made any economic sense to Gazprom in the first place is hard to fathom. After all, Team Russia’s main sponsor at international events is another Russian company. One that exports weapons. So says its logo on Team Russia’s official jerseys.

Of course, says the KHL, no need to worry: we have Finland’s Jokerit Helsinki joining as of next season, and a team from Sochi, and another one from Togliatti. The former club, HC Sochi, a.k.a. Sochi Leopards, has former NHL player Vyacheslav (Slava) Butsayev as its coach. The latter, known as Lada, used to be Torpedo. It was kicked out of the KHL in 2011 because it didn’t have a good enough arena. It was renamed Lada because the Soviets used to build their version of the Italian car, Fiat, under the nickname of Lada, in a local car factory.

So far as Lev Praha is concerned, the first signs of trouble emerged earlier this spring. According to early June quotes from Rashid Khabibulin, the team’s sports manager, there were issues when the club tried to negotiate a new lease deal with Prague’s O2 Arena. He didn’t specify what issues then, but now, say some Czech insiders, it is becoming obvious what they were. Lev wanted to pay less than what the arena owners had been asking for.

Several Lev players, approached by the media, tried to put brave faces on: it’s not official yet, they would all say, and they hope the owners will find a way.

Only the owners’ bankers know whether this optimism is justified or not.

And they’re not telling.

Dave King revives Lokomotiv Yaroslavl

This is how legends are born.

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, the Russian KHL team that rose from the ashes of the aircraft crash that had wiped out the entire club, has made it all the way into conference finals of the KHL Gagarin Cup. The club rode over Dynamo Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg with a vengeance. It now faces Lev Praha.

Thanks to Canada’s Dave King.

Yaroslavl coach Pyotr Vorobyov resigned for health reasons in February, during the Olympic break. A day later, King got his leave from the Phoenix Coyotes and was on his way to Russia.

This isn’t King’s first coaching job in Russia. In fact, during the 2006-07 season, he became the fist Canadian coach in the KHL, guiding Metallurg Magnitogorsk. He opened the door for Barry Smith, Paul Maurice and Mike Keenan.

King’s arrival in Yaroslavl had some pretty emotional connotations. Brad McCrimmon, one of that fatal air crash victims, a former NHL defenceman and a Yaroslavl coach, used to be King’s personal friend. Both hailing from Saskatchewan, they’ve always been on the same wavelength.

King is very much aware that not even time will heal the terrible loss Lokomotiv has suffered. But he is also aware what a major victory can do to help the healing process.

One of Dave King’s advantages: he knows hockey inside-out on both sides of the Big Pond. He has coached in the NHL, he has coached for Canada internationally, even at Olympic level (Calgary, 1988, Albertville, 1992), he has coached in the KHL (Magnitogorsk), he has coached in other European countries in their elite leagues (Sweden, Germany). He has been a keen student of the game as such and of different approaches to it, recording things that he had learned in Russia in a book. Co-authored by veteran journalist Eric Duhatschek, King of Russia: A Year in the Russian Super League was published in 2007, becoming quite a success among hockey fans all over the world.

When King took over at Yaroslavl in February, Lokomotiv was out of the playoffs.

Now, it’s in conference finals, having beaten two clubs whose motto was “Cup or bust.”

Nobody expected that.

Should Lokomotiv win it all, Dave King can count on having a statue of him unveiled right at Yaroslavl’s central square.

And if he doesn’t? Well, he still got the team to a level that nobody had expected it to be just a few months ago.

And, irony of ironies: if Yaroslavl succeeds, and Metallurg Magnitogorsk wins the other conference, two Canadian coaches will be facing each other in the Gagarin Cup finals: King would be coaching against Mike Keenan.

Go Canada go!

KHL drops playoffs games in Ukraine

Political tensions in Ukraine have dragged professional hockey in Russia’s KHL into the mix.

Lev Praha is to play Donbass Donetsk in KHL’s quarterfinals. But KHL management has decided it would not be safe for either the teams or their fans if the games took place anywhere in Ukraine.

“It’s obvious we won’t play in Ukraine,” KHL vice-president Vladimir Shalayev told the R-Sport.ru website Tuesday.

“We’re now debating where to play. We want to hear what Donbass has to say, they have the right to choose.”

Sources say that it seems at the moment that Slovan Bratislava’s arena will be the venue.

Bratislava is the capital of the Republic of Slovakia.

Lev Praha’s spokesman Jan Rachota told Czech website iDNES.cz it looked as if the series would be played in Donetsk, but “negotiations between Donbass management and the KHL are ongoing. We await their decision.”

It doesn’t matter where they will be playing, Czech club’s players said.

“No change, so far as we are concerned,” Lev’s forward Petr Vrana told the team’s website. “We’re playing two games at home and then we’re going on the road, no matter where that’s going to be.”

After all, “We all know what’s going on in Ukraine,” Vrana said, “so I understand they made the call because of security concerns. Of course,” he added, “if we’re going to play in Bratislava, it’s better for us because we won’t have to fly anywhere, we’ll just bus it.”

It wouldn’t be the first time the Slovnaft Arena would become a home-away-from-home for Donetsk: it was the site for their seventh and deciding game against Riga.

Donetsk coach Andrei Nazarov has been philosophical: “I like Bratislava. I don’t want to talk about how it all ends right now. If there’s no change, we’re going to play our next two home games in Bratislava. But it’s going to be the league management’s decision.”

Slovak players on Donetsk’s roster were pleased with the last game, the decider against Riga, that they played in Bratislava: “I wouldn’t have dreamt that I would play the series final and deciding game at home,” observed Donetsk’s defenceman Peter  Podhradský. He happens to be a Bratislava native.

Still, Podhradský said, Donetsk fans would have deserved that their club faced off against Lev in their real home arena, Druzhba.

Donetsk goalie Ján Laco, another Slovak, said he didn’t know what the fuss was all about: “When we drove to the airport, the city was calm. Nothing catastrophic.”

Yes, he conceded, “There was something going on in the area of Donetsk’s main square downtown, but nothing serious,” Laco told Slovakian website, cas.sk.

“But,” Laco added, “ it’s not our decision.”

R-Sport.ru sees things differently.

Donetsk, in the mainly Russian-speaking east of Ukraine, is being rocked by violent clashes between pro-Russian protesters who want closer ties with Russia and pro-Ukrainian activists who do not, the website said.