November 16, 2008

Meet the champions!

Salavat Yulaev
Vs. Dinamo Riga

Ufa’s Salavat Yulaev is not just a super club, it’s Russia’s current champion. And it has all chances in becoming the first champion of KHL (and also winning the Champions League). Salavat is strong in absolutely all lines. But it wasn’t always like this. In the past Salavat Yulaev never was between Russia’s top clubs. Only in the last years Ufa began investing money in hockey, so the club started progressing. In season 2005/06 Salavat finished 7th, in 06/07 – it was 3rd, and in 2007/08, for the first time in its history, Salavat Yulaev was 1st, not only in the play-offs, but also in the regular season. The team was counted as favorites from the beginning of the last season and it still is. These guys know how to get the puck in the net, they know how to defend their zone and they know that the game last 60 minutes. Salavat Yulaev will keep on fighting no matter what. It’s not by accident that the team’s head coach Sergey Mickhalev has a nickname – “silver fox” – a sly, white-haired strategist.

At the time Salavat Yulaev is placed 2nd in the Bobrov divison with only 4 points behind the leader Atlant. In the overall standing it makes Ufa 5th. That’s the whim of KHL’s calendar – the first four places goes to the winners of the divisions. So a team can be much stronger than all clubs in other divisions, but if it’s not first in its own division, than its only fifth in the tournament table, which’s not very convenient, because that makes one’s team play-off opponent stronger. And another funny thing – two best KHL teams for now are placed in one division. I mean, Atlant and Salavat Yulaev. So in the end of the regular season one of these clubs will be first in the division (and most likely in the whole league) and the second – (if nothing changes) will only be the fifth… But that’s what makes the struggle in Bobrov division so interesting.

So, Salavat Yulaev has 18 wins (1 in over-time and 1 in shoot-outs) and 6 looses (also – 1 in OT and 1 in SO) in 24 games, with 91 goals for and 47 against, which is one of the league’s best rates. Notable, Ufa scored most short-handed goal in KHL – 7 and has the highest per cent in penalty killing – 90.6 %. Dinamo Riga, by the way, scored 6 goals being SH.

Salavat’s goalkeepers – Alexandr Yeremenko and Vadim Tarasov – are considered as the best Russian goalie tandem in KHL. Tarasov didn’t play much due to an injury, so the main role is given to Yeremenko. Alexandr played 18 games – 34 goals against and 93.1% save percentage, which is best in the league.

The scoring leaders are: forwards – Alexey Tereschenko – 25 points (8+17), Alexandr Perezhogin with 23 points (17(!)+6), Alexandr Radulov – 19 (8+11), Vladimir Antipov, Vladimir Vorobyov (both – 16 pts.), also Leosh Chermak (7+5) and Andrey Taratukhin (2+9); defensemen – Kirill Koltsov – 15 (3+12), Oleg Tverdovskiy, Igor Schadilov, Vitaliy Proshkin (all – 10 points).

It’s actually hard for me to say, what waits for Dinamo Riga. Of course, any team can win their opponent, but… I’ll be honest, I don’t think Riga will gain points. Although, I must say, Dinamo’s games with Salavat Yulaev are something I’ve been waiting for. Ufa is where Dinamo will really be tested. It’s going to be difficult. But still I hope for the best and continue believing that anything’s possible!

Photos from Salavat Yulaev's official website.

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