All West Group matches in the Gazprom Neft Cup have now been played in Minsk. Players, coaches and fans alike were treated to an emotion-charged few days of new experiences. The last day was the most gripping, with the title of best team in West Group up for grabs, as well as the chance to play in the 8th Super Final of the Gazprom Neft Cup scheduled to take place in Omsk on April 25.
Which school would win the Belarusian segment of the Tournament and could hosts, Dinamo (Minsk), stand up to the Russian teams were the key questions until halfway through the day, when the pieces started to fall into place.
The “Bisons” of Dinamo (Minsk) had made it through the group phase in dazzling style. But then in the semi-final of this prestigious international competition they skidded to a halt.
First coach Sergei Gromov’s young protégées lost by a wide margin of 3:10 to their Moscow namesakes. And in the fight for third place they handed what was nearly their victory to Yaroslavl’s Lokomotiv. Nonetheless, the performance and results of the Minsk boys were widely hailed as a success.
Another newcomer to the Gazprom Neft Cup, Finland’s Jokerit, won its first victory in the Tournament. The Helsinki club scored three unmatched goals against Dinamo (Riga). The Latvian players scored only once over four games but still impressed with their principled conduct and uncompromising attitude, even when the score on the board seemed beyond hope.
A minor scandal flared in the match of SKA St Petersburg and Severstal of Cherepovets. While both trainers had said the final results and ranking were not the most important thing, the game proved to be a combative one. No one wanted to back down and it went to a penalty shootout and a win for Severstal. But it was the last penalty score against SKA that stirred a heated controversy among the players, coaches and supporters.
In his run-up to shoot Severstal’s forward released the puck too far in front of himself, the keeper hit it away into the air and the oncoming player smashed it into the goal in
But the main spectacle came that evening when inveterate rivals CSKA and Dynamo (Moscow) clashed in the rink of the Chizhovka Arena. In drama and entertainment value, the storyline of the final was worthy of even the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
CSKA took the lead 2:0 in the sixth minute of the game, and their fans lining the stands began to bet on the size of their heroes’ victory. But Dynamo staged an effective comeback. The resurgence of the young trainees of the club’s tempestuous coach Vladimir Ring took less than a minute. Fourteen seconds before the end of the first period the West Group’s star forward Nikita Chibrikov then took his team into the lead.
Coach and spectators alike were stumped as to what had happened to the blue-and-whites in the interval. But in the second period there may as well have been only one team on the ice. Four unreciprocated pucks flew into the Dynamo net in the next 15 minutes of the game, the outcome of which was by now determined, before it ended with a 6:3 win for CSKA.
It was symbolically fitting that the victors received their prizes and medals from two-time Olympic champion and eight-time world champion Boris Petrovich Mikhailov, who for many years had battled under the colours of the Army team. The Soviet ice hockey legend went as far as to admit before the match that he still carried only one team close to his heart. And in case no one had guessed, that he was rooting for CSKA.
And so CSKA went a step closer to successfully defending the title its boys won a year ago. The team and coach Valery Cherny will now fly by chartered plane to Omsk to compete in the Super Final of the 8th Gazprom Neft Cup. And “CSKA — Ak-Bars” is a billing truly worthy of any ice hockey competition!