“What we saw wasn’t junior hockey but a men’s game with thought”. Kharlamov Cup Finals first games analysis

Playoffs
Interview
18.04.2021 в 13:30
“What we saw wasn’t junior hockey but a men’s game with thought”. Kharlamov Cup Finals first games analysis
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Sakhalinskie Akuly head-coach Mikhail Komarov predicted a (super) exciting finals series with Loko Yaroslavl coming out on top with a 4-2 win over JHC Dynamo Moscow. However, Russia’s capital team won both games on home ice and took a 2-0 lead prior to travelling to Yaroslavl. We asked Mikhail Komarov what was the reason behind Dynamo taking control of the series and what Loko needs to make a comeback.

“The focus has been rather on defense than offense so far”

– What are your impressions on the first two games?
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We thought there would be a lot of goals scored but we what we saw wasn’t junior hockey but a men’s game with thought. Both teams worked towards winning. Game 1 was tight and it all boiled down to one shootout attempt. Loko tried to be more offensive in Game 2 but Dynamo kept their cool and played solid defense. And they didn’t set any traps - they were aggressive on the forecheck and they defended well in the neutral zone. But as we have already said, there are skilled players on both teams. Goaltenders play a big role in the series. [Vadim] Zherenko has been great. [Yegor] Gorshkov did allow a few more goals. I’m not trying to blame everything on Loko goaltender but perhaps the team feels a little less confident with him in net. Nevertheless, there’s nothing to say against Gorshkov.

- Were you surprised by the outcome? Just as reporter Alexei Shevchenko, you have bet on Yaroslavl but right now it’s Dynamo who holds a 2-0 lead.
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I wasn’t really surprised. Game 1 shouldn’t be taken into consideration because it truly was tight. Any team could have won that game. And I really liked the way Dynamo played in Game 2. Whether it’s going to be Loko or Dynamo who win the series, I’m not going to be disappointed in any case. Both teams play really well. I also like that the two teams have a bright future ahead of them. Almost 20 players on both sides can reinforce VHL and KHL teams right now. These are young and promising players and they make our hockey more exciting to watch. Both Dynamo and Loko have great ambitions and they have skilled and well-developed players. Kisakov, Gutik, Abrosimov, Denezhkin and Nikulin just to name a few.

- Would you rather say that the reason behind the result of the first games lies behind Loko’s mistakes or Dynamo’s strength?
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I would say that it’s Dynamo’s strength. We know perfectly well that in the playoffs – especially in the finals – the winner is the team that recovers better. The goals are scored only by players who are full of energy and ready to go. If a player is out of gas, if he’s got sore hands and legs and he’s got a million of other things on his mind – he’s not going to score a goal. Dynamo looks more energized. Game 2 showed it really well. Loko players did their best, they had their fair share of scoring chances but they couldn’t score. That means that Dynamo players are more exciting and are given more freedom. Most likely, that is exactly why Moscow was stronger. But I have nothing against Loko players.

- You have said that no matter how much a coach asks his team to switch to protecting the lead, the teams will still find a way to play offensive-minded hockey. Have you seen that in the first two games?
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They didn’t open up. Maybe, we’re still going to see this brand of hockey in the upcoming games but right now the discipline prevails over creativity. This is a defensive-minded hockey. They pay more attention to protecting their own net than creating something in the offensive zone. Everyone does his best. It’s hard to score on both teams. I believe, the teams approach the games with a mindset of not letting in anything first and care about offense later.

- Out of 12 attempts in the shootout, only one was capitalized on. What is the reason behind that?
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It’s difficult to give a definitive answer to this question. Both goaltenders played really well. I believe, it has something to do with the nervousness from playing Game 1 of the finals. Both teams felt it.

- Daniil Gutik scored the shootout-winner for Dynamo. He’s a Loko Yaroslavl junior hockey school alumnus. Does the desire to score on his former team fuels his motivation?
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Such moments always come in handy. It gives you more motivation. Gutik is a very skilled hockey player. He sees the ice pretty well and where his teammates are located. He controls the puck well. He backchecks and forechecks. In any case, he really proved his worth in these games. Perhaps, his mindset really plays a huge role in the series.

- Loko head-coach Alexander Ardashev said the following. ‘Unfortunately, not all of our guys prepared well for the finals”. It’s difficult to believe that he said this about the final series. How can this manifest itself?
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Perhaps, their mindset going into the games wasn’t optimal. Conceded goals – that’s not all about Dynamo’s strength. It has a lot to do with Loko’s defensive play. Perhaps, Yaroslavl haven’t put enough emphasis on protecting their net.

- You have said that Dynamo’s opponents have to spend a lot of energy and yet don’t get the results they want. Is that true for the final series as well?
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So far, yes. I can’t say that Loko played defensive-minded hockey per se. They did put the pressure on, they had good offensive rushes and they were good at setting up camp in the offensive zone. But since they couldn’t score, that means that Dynamo played well defensively. And like I said, Dynamo did a great job defensively not just in their own end but all over the ice. They were very aggressive on the forecheck and they gave Loko players business in their end. They had enough energy to do that.

- Dynamo is yet to lose a game in this playoff run. What does it tell you?
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We have mentioned several times that they have a very strong team. But this is where the mindset really comes in the fore. They have great ambience in the locker-room and they stay loose. This also means a lot for the result.

“Let’s expect the teams to surprise us”

– What difficulties can Dynamo come against on the road?
- It’s going to be exciting to see how they would react if they’re going to start trailing. They’re going to have to open up and attack more, while the time is going to catastrophically drift away. In this situation, perhaps, Loko is going to score on quick transition plays. What if Dynamo is going to start taking more penalties? Yaroslavl has a great power play unit. It’s going to be exciting how Dynamo is going to do in the battle of special teams.

- What Loko needs to improve on in home games?
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I believe, the most important thing for them right now is to recover and get in the right mindset. They should panic and stick to the brand of hockey that they were successful at all through the course of the season. Nothing terrible has happened yet. If they get lucky to score first, they’re going to find their legs under them. Perhaps, they’re going to have the momentum on their side then. They have skilled players, they’re great offensively and they have really good special teams. Loko have everything to go on to win the cup.

- Does the home ice play any role in this?
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Of course. Dynamo had great support behind them in Moscow. I know for a fact that there are great fans in Yaroslavl. Moreover, their KHL team doesn’t compete in Gagarin Cup Finals this year, so they’ve got the whole town behind them. Fans will come to support their talented and promising youngsters. They will most definitely have amazing support and that’s going to play in their favor.

- Are there going to be any surprises in this series?
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It’s difficult to say but we’re going to expect them. It’s not that exciting when one of the teams dominates on the ice. When there’s a battle, that’s when you really root for everyone. You cheer when one team wins and get frustrated that the other teams loses. Let there be surprises.

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