About the League
Kontinental Hockey League junior hockey development vice-president Alexander Guskov comments on Kharlamov Cup Playoffs, Matvei Michkov and Your Chance program.
— What is your take on the opening round of Kharlamov Cup Playoffs?
- I was very pleased with how it all panned out in the East. Every series was tight and there were no sweeps. We almost had an upset in the series between Chayka [Nizhny Novgorod] and Sputnik [Almetyevsk]. Eighth seed in the East took three games to overtime or shootout and won one of them. Sputnik made a great playoffs debut. I would also like to point out the Ural rivalry. Belye Medvedi [Chelyabinsk] and Stalnye Lisy took the series to deciding Game 5. It’s always exciting. Spartak [Moscow] and Krasnaya Armiya [Moscow] had a great series in the West. Every game was intense right till the final buzzer. Krasnaya Armiya took one of the game in the shootout and another one in overtime. That’s exactly what we expected from the Moscow rivalry.
- Three series in the Western Conference ended in a sweep, while in the West there weren’t one. How would you explain that?
- Western top teams had a huge point-gap between them and the opposition. It wasn’t as big as that in the East. That’s an objective outcome of the regular season. But the balance can change any season. Junior Hockey League teams juggle their rosters quite a bit. The players get quality game experience, grow professionally and move on to men’s hockey. Some teams change beyond recognition during a season. Let me give you an example with conference regular season champions. Dynamo Moscow was sixth in the West last season, while Nizhny Novgorod missed the playoffs. I will also note that it’s not fair to judge a series solely by the 3-0 outcome. Almaz [Cherepovets] lost Game 1 only in the shootout and they lost Game 2 by a goal. Loko Yaroslavl beat Dynamo St. Petersburg in regulation only once in three games. Only Dynamo Moscow had solid wins in the 3-game series against Atlant [Moscow Region].
- Matvei Michkov became one of Junior Hockey League stars this season. What is you take on his performance in the opening round? Do you think we may be expecting too much from a 16-year-old guy?
- Players and coaches pay more attention to opposing top players in the playoffs and it gets more difficult to score goals. Nevertheless, Michkov delivered in the shootout in Game 1 and scored the winner. He also had two assists in that game. Matvei has to keep working and improving but he already showed great results this season. He became the youngest top goal-scorer in Junior Hockey League history and beat Nikita Kucherov’s records for points and goals for U17 players in the league. It’s quite an achievement for a young player, who turned 16 only in December. Matvei had a great season and he became a Junior Hockey League star already at his age.
I’m very happy that Matvei will spend the next five years in Russia. It’s great not only sports-wise but marketing-wise as well. We keep track of Junior Hockey League website audience numbers as well as our social media and media publications. The fans are interested in Matvei and his play. Michkov has everything it takes to become a star of Russian hockey, while building his career in his home country.
— Tolpar Ufa, who got reinforcements from VHL, beat Mamonty Yugry Khanty-Mansiysk. Yaroslav Askarov is in goal for SKA-1946 St. Petersburg. Do you consider reinforcements from higher leagues good or bad?
- I’m positive on that. Russian hockey goes down the road of building a hockey vertical within club and league structure. We believe it to be our competitive advantage over North American teams. We think it’s a good thing that the players have freedom to move between KHL, VHL and JHL within one club. It stimulates development. In particular players from KHL and VHL teams that get eliminated have a chance to prolong their season competing in Kharlamov Cup playoffs.
One of our goals is improving the level of play in Junior Hockey League. Thanks to the reinforcements from other teams within club structure Kharlamov Cup games are more exciting to watch. It raises the level of competition. Having said that, getting reinforcements from men’s teams does not guarantee success. It may seem they improve the level of the team. On the other side, they interfere with line chemistry that is in place and has been worked on in the course of the season. It’s up to coaches to use the advantage that they get. Sometimes it’s difficult to deal the right way with your assets.
— What should we focus on in round two games?
- Eight best regular season teams continue to battle for the cup. Two most productive lines are still competing – Stepan Nikulin, Ruslan Abrosimov and Ilya Chefanov from Loko and Alexander Kisakov, Nikita Lukhovskoy and Maxim Makhrin from JHC Dynamo Moscow. Top goal-scorer of the regular season Matvei Michkov will go head-to-head with the best goaltender Yegor Guskov. And only one of them will get to the next round.
- On March 20th the league announced the launch of Your Chance program. Tell us about the project.
- The main objective is to give young athletes an opportunity to sign a professional contract. Sometimes certain players show great results in junior championships but there’s no strong team in his town and he doesn’t have a chance to follow a path towards professional career. There are other examples as well. Sometimes a junior hockey school alumnus doesn’t make the cut for Junior Hockey League team within the club’s structure but he has a potential to develop on another team and even become a leader there.
We had Your Chance program only once – back in 2019. We couldn’t do it the following year because of the pandemic. The program propelled seven players to Junior Hockey League in 2019. Almost 15% of all participants got a second chance in hockey. It’s a good result, especially for the inaugural year. Daniel Usmanov and Roman Daryin seized the chance better than others. Daryin has played in the league for two years already and helped Atlant make the playoffs for the first time in a long time. He also competed at the Challenge Cup. Usmanov also signed with Atlant. He had a good season and joined Spartak afterwards. He also made the playoffs with his new team.