MOSCOW – In 2008, Linköpings HC shocked its fans when it announced that it had rented its three star players, Magnus Johansson, Tony Mårtensson, and Mattias Weinhandl, to the KHL. Johansson went to Atlant Mytishchi, Mårtensson to Ak Bars Kazan, and Weinhandl to Dynamo Moscow.
After all, Mårtensson had won the scoring title, Weinhandl had been the runner-up and with his 35 goals in 54 games, the league’s leading goal scorer. Johansson had signed with Linköping upon his return from the NHL, but instead of taking the team back to the final, the trio chose to play in Russia.
Weinhandl’s club Dynamo Moscow was a legendary club in the Soviet times. The alma mater of such great forwards as Alexei Yashin, Vladimir Yurzinov, and Alexander Maltsev – an idol of Alexander Ovechkin, another Dynamo player.
Weinhandl is quickly becoming another name on the list of great forwards that have played in the Moscow club. A sniper all through his career Weinhandl has now emerged as one of the top scorer in the KHL, arguably the second-best league in the world. Weinhandl has 13 goals, 29 points in 24 games with Dynamo, playing in line with Jiri Hudler, the former Detroit Red Wing.
His 29 points is just four shy of his last season’s total.
Weinhandl finished last season well, leading Team Sweden in scoring at the World Championship in Switzerland in May, when he collected 12 points – five goals – in nine games en route to the bronze medals. He was also Sweden’s leading scorer in the 2008 World Championship in Quebec City.
“Last year, I suffered an injury and I actually think I was playing just as well as now after my return, but of course, second year is a little easier, especially outside the rink. They have taken really good care of us,” Weinhandl told IIHF.com from his home in the outskirts of Moscow.
“And then, of course, I’ve played in a great line here,” he added.
The 29-year-old forward and his girlfriend are so happy with life in the Russian capital that he’s already considering an extension of his contract. But with two years remaining in his contract with Linköping, things get a little complicated. The club would like to re-rent him, to be sure that they will be compensated for it, which would not be the case should Weinhandl sign with an NHL club.
Right now, though, the Swedish sniper is enjoying life on top of the European hockey world.
“The league is really good, and gets better with every new great player. It’s not the NHL, but the level of play is higher than in the Swedish Elitserien. It’s a little faster here so I hope to keep developing as a player,” he says.
The differences between being a pro player in Sweden and in Russia aren’t as big as one might think, says Weinhandl.
“Of course, we worked hard in the pre-season, but that we did in Sweden as well. Of course, some of the road trips are a ot longer than in Sweden, when it’s an eight-hour flight.
“But hockey is similar, if a little faster here, and the players are more skilled so you have to be aware and alert at all times. Hockey may be a little more tactical in Sweden, and the teams stick to their systems more. Of course, every team always has a system that needs to be followed but over here, it’s more run-and-gun which I like,” he says.
“Looking at the sweaters and the photos of the players that have played here, you can tell that Dynamo is a legendary club, even if a lot has happened since the Soviet days. The atmosphere in our games against the CSKA is wonderful, the fans are really loud in their support,” says Weinhandl.
Currently, “Маттиас Вейнхандль” is doing great in the KHL scoring race, and his Dynamo is third in the Western Conference. Its archrival, the legendary CSKA Moscow is seventh, hanging onto a playoff spot.