MAGNITOGORSK, Russia – If somebody had told Ilya Proskuryakov prior to this season that he would be Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s starter in the Champions Hockey League final, he would have called that dreaming. But the 21-year-old is having his breakthrough season in Russia.
Proskuryakov could be one of the next international stars to hail from Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s hockey school. Already in 2004-2005, when he was 18 years old, he had his debut in the highest Russian league but he hadn’t played more than 463 minutes in the Superliga in those four years until last summer. It was then, when the former World U18 Championship participant was promoted to be one of the two goalkeepers in the Metallurg roster.
Proskuryakov was supposed to be the backup of the Belarusian national team goalie Andrei Mezin but while Mezin was injured, Proskuryakov cracked the starting six. In the Russian KHL, he was in the goal for 1838:58 minutes, getting 65 percent of the ice time and having a 92.1 save percentage.
His stats look even better in the Champions Hockey League, where coach Valeri Belousov only trusted the younger of his netminders. Proskuryakov was in the net in all seven games and he has a 94.85 save percentage which is just topped by Salavat’s Alexander Eremenko’s 95.17.
His stats went a bit lower last week, when ZSC Lions forwards Jean-Guy Trudel and Adrian Wichser defeated him to reach a 2-2 tie in the first final game in Magnitogorsk.
"The statistics show that Zurich is very good offensively," said Ilya Proskuryakov ahead of the first game.
Since then, Metallurg had just one game to play, in Kazan, before taking a charter plane from there to Zurich. The 2-0 win against Ak Bars became another premiere for the young goalie, who earned a shutout with 26 saves. And it was also a premiere for the young league. Proskuryakov became the first netminder to score a goal in a KHL game when he had an empty-netter at 59:45, just four minutes after Nikolai Zavarukhin had scored the game-winner for Metallurg.
Ak Bars attacked with six skaters but Proskuryakov caught a distance shot from Ilya Nikulin, shot it to the other side of the rink and the puck found its way into the net via the left goal post.
“I just shot the puck out of the zone and didn’t think that I would score,” Proskuryakov told Sovietsky Sport after his goal and his usual jump of joy. “I’ve never scored a goal before in a game. Once I played for the farm team against Avangard Omsk, I hit the post. This time, the post was on my side.”
Proskuryakov is in good shape for the most important game of his career, the second game against the ZSC Lions Zurich in Switzerland. After the 2-2 in Magnitogorsk, both team need to win to get the Silver Stone Trophy. In case of another tie after 60 minutes, a penalty shoot-out would have to decide about the winner of the inaugural Champions Hockey League season.
"The attitude is the same," concluded Proskuryakov. "Anytime you go on ice you have to win."
Also Czech star forward Jan Marek, who played with an injury in the first game of the CHL final, was back in the line-up against Ak Bars Kazan and will be able to play for “Magnitka” in the second final game on Wednesday in Rapperswil-Jona.
However, Alexander Seluyanov left the ice with a back injury on Sunday. The appearance of the third-line defenceman against the ZSC Lions is in question.