Junior Hockey League continues its series of the 2017 Kharlamov Cup Playoffs matchups previews. In the opening round Irbis Kazan will meet Belye Medvedi Chelyabinsk. Both teams missed the post-season last year.
Kazan can’t be too happy about their last season. They got off to a great start but something went wrong after New Year’s Day. In the end Sergei Lopushansky’s men missed the playoffs by just a few points. In the off-season the team made some adjustments and really turned things around. Irbis, coached now by Dmitry Balmin, played consistently well throughout the regular season.
Irbis hit a slump only late in October when they lost four games in a row, including two to Belya Medvedi Chelyabinsk. But thanks to a streak of wins early in the season not only Irbis surpassed Belye Medvedi in the standings, who up until recently had topped the Eastern Conference, but they finished third overall. As a result the series will kick off in Kazan.
Irbis have got a great goaltending duo. Maxim Kalyayev played a few more games, posting a 2.08 Goals Against Average and six shutouts but 16-year-old Amir Miftakhov also looked good in goal when he was getting the nod.
The young netminder had a .918 Average Save Percentage per game and enjoyed three shutout wins. Eduard Nasybullin led all Irbis defensemen in points. He scored seven goals and notched 24 assists for 31 points. Up front Kazan relies on forwards Artyom Rasulov and Artyom Valeyev. The two combined for 49 goals.
Chelyabinsk have their own stellar young goaltender. 17-year-old Sergei Mylnikov played 37 games, enjoyed two shutouts and a 2.22 Goals Against Average. However, if something goes wrong, he can be replaced by Artur Mustafin and Nikita Podskrebalin.
Belye Medvedi scored a bundle of goals in the regular season. Mikhail Konovalov led the team with 18 tallies and 27 helpers for 45 points – he went on to play at the 2017 MHL Challenge Cup along with Vitaly Kravtsov. Ivan Bezrukov led Chelyabinsk with 21 goals, while Leonid Lavrinenko had the most points among defensemen with eight goals and 20 assists for 28 points.
As for Belye Medvedi’s road to the playoffs, Maxim Smelnitsky’s side topped the Eastern Conference for a long time, which led to their head-coach being invited to the 2017 MHL Challenge Cup. After New Year’s Day Chelyabinsk hit a minor slump. With five consecutive losses Belye Medvedi dropped down in the standings, while Reaktor Nizhnekamsk went to to top the conference.
‘Polar Bears’ also let Irbis surpass them in the standings but they never dropped lower than 6th place. Chelyabinsk represent one of the top junior hockey schools in Russia. Their best result so far was making it to the semifinals three times. Can Chelyabinsk get a better result this year or Kazan will eliminate them in the first round?
In the 2016-17 season: 60 games, 34 regulation wins, 3 overtime wins, 3 shootout wins, 17 regulation losses, 2 overtime losses, 1 shootout loss. 117 points, 3rd place in the Eastern Conference.
Goals For – 197
Goals Against – 139
Top-scorer: Artyom Rasulov – 54 points (23 goals, 31 assists)
Top goal-scorer: Artyom Valeyev – 26 goals
Top defenseman: Eduard Nasybullin – 31 points (7 goals, 24 assists), plus-36
Starting goaltender: Maxim Kalyayev – 31 games, 19 wins, Goals Against Average – 2.08, Average Save Percentage - .926 per game.
Belya Medvedi Chelyabinsk
In the 2016-17 season: 60 games, 32 regulation wins, 3 overtime wins, 3 shootout wins, 19 regulation losses, 3 overtime losses. 111 points, 6th place in the Eastern Conference.
Goals For – 204
Goals Against – 142
Top-scorer: Mikhail Konovalov – 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists)
Top goal-scorer: Ivan Bezrukov – 21 goals
Top defenseman: Leonid Lavrinenko – 28 points (8 goals, 20 assists), plus-18
Starting goaltender: Sergei Mylnikov – 37 games, 21 wins, Goals Against Average – 2.22, Average Save Percentage - .924 per game.
October 30th, 2016, Kazan, Russia. Irbis – Belye Medvedi – 4-6
October 31st, 2016, Kazan, Russia. Irbis - Belye Medvedi - 3-4
January 31st, 2017, Chelyabinsk, Russia. Belye Medvedi – Irbis – 3-1
February 1st, 2017, Chelyabinsk, Russia. Belye Medvedi – Irbis - 2-5