CHEKHOV, Russia – A game in Russia’s KHL was suspended on Saturday after only 3:39 as teams Vityaz Chekhov and Avangard Omsk were out of players. In total 691 penalty minutes and 18 game misconducts were assessed before the game was over with 56:21 left to play.
Sometimes reality exceeds fiction. In 1977 the movie was Slapshot, the league was the Federal League, the team was the Charlestown Chiefs and the violent goons were the Hanson brothers.
On January 9, the real setting was the Sports Palace in the city of Chekhov (pop. 73,000) in Moscow region, the league was the Kontinental Hockey League, the teams were Vityaz Chekhov and Avangard Omsk and the culprits were washed up North American minor league goons Darcy Verot and Brandon Sugden.
Just as in the movie the trouble started during the warmup but in Slapshot, at least, the games finished.
A series of brawls in the first four minutes of the game between Vityaz Chekhov and Avangard Omsk resulted in the assessment of 691 penalty minutes (some reports say 637) against Avangard’s Czech star Jaromir Jagr and 30 other players – so many that the game had to be suspended because neither team had enough players to continue.
Jagr, selected to the Czech Olympic team for Vancouver and hardly known as a fighter, was assessed 2+2+10+10 for his part.
A statement on the KHL web site said that a league commission would meet Sunday to examine video and hear from team officials, referees and official observers to decide disciplinary measures and the outcome of the match, which was stopped at 0-0 with 56 minutes 21 seconds to play.
KHL President and IIHF Council Member Alexander Medvedev issued this statement on Saturday in reaction to the game:
“We are aware of what happened in Chekhov. But it is too early to draw any conclusions. We don't know everything, although it is obvious that it is wrong to fight in pre-game warm ups. Nevertheless, we have to study the video footage, listen to representatives of both sides, and only after that should we come to an informed decision.”
The fighting started at 3:27. Several videos on the internet showed Vityaz’s Brendan Sugden, one of many Canadian “tafgai” imports that the team has used over the years, starting a fight with Avangard’s Alexander Svitov. Immediately, the rest of the players on the ice, including Jagr, squared off and dropped their gloves.
Order was restored by the referees S. Gusev and Y. Tsyplakov, and play resumed. But at 3:34 more fighting broke out, and eight more players, four from each side, were sent off.
At 3:37, there was another free-for-all, involving players on the ice and seven more in the penalty boxes, including Jagr. That left three Avangard skaters on the ice and one on the bench, and three Vityaz skaters on the ice and three on the bench.
So at 3:39, when Avangard’s Anton Babchuk and Jakub Klepis were penalized for leaving the bench and Vityaz’s Viktor Bobrov and Rustam Bakhriddinov took 10-minute misconducts, both teams were out of players. Also players in the penalty boxes jumped to the ice to join in.
After the game, Avangard's president Anatoli Bardin placed blame on Vityaz for starting the brawl, as told to the newspaper Sovietsky Sport:
“I am a former referee myself, but I have never seen anything like that. It already started during the pre-game warm ups, when Darcy Verot shot the puck at our player Lasse Kukkonen. It was a provocation that started the fight. But we went to Chekhov not looking for trouble. We don’t even have a tough guy on our team. And the next day we had a very important game against Salavat Yulayev scheduled. Why would we need game misconduct penalties?”
“After the brawl the Vityaz’ players went to their locker rooms happy. And the question now is not whether we need this type of hockey, but whether we need teams like Vityaz? The Chekhov team is embarrassing the KHL. We are currently communicating with the league and hope that the most severe punishments will be assessed on Sunday. Jaromir Jagr is still in shock after the incident. Even he had to fight today. There was no other way for him.”
Vityaz Chekhov has not only borrowed a page from the Slapshot script, it has taken the whole book and added a chapter or two.
The club from the Moscow suburbs have made fighting and intimidation their “Modus Operandi” since joining the KHL two years ago. At the Chekhov arena there is a large sign, visible in videos of the brawling, with a quotation from the film “Alexander Nevsky” and its famous “Battle on the Ice” sequence: “Who comes to us with the sword shall perish by the sword.”
Consequently, the club’s management strategically recruits goons who have previously have piled up serious penalty minutes in North American minor leagues.
Darcy Verot is in his third season as Vityaz’ “tafgai”. With 289 penalty minutes in 25 games, the Canadian winger has a 157-minute lead on his compatriot, Traktor Chelyabinsk defenceman Martin Grenier. Before the game on Saturday, Verot averaged already 11:34 penalty minutes per game and 8:29 minutes of ice time. He’s on a way to break his own record with Vityaz: In the in the 2007-2008 season he had 511 minutes.
Notorious enforcer Chris Simon has recently left Vityaz and it has been reported that Simon was immediately replaced by John Gratton, who has 900 penalty minutes in 234 games in the American Hockey League. Gratton did not play in the Saturday game. Another brawling Canadian, Nathan Perrot, quit Vityaz after last season to become a heavyweight boxer.
But fisticuffs seem to be the only department where Vityaz is efficient. They are last in the 24-team KHL with 32 points in 40 games. They finished 23rd overall last season.
The two teams have a tragic history. In October 2008, Avangard’s 19-year-old star forward Alexei Cherepanov died after his heart stopped at the Vityaz arena, which had inadequate medical equipment on the premises and no ambulance waiting. Cherepanov collapsed on the bench into Jagr’s arms.
UPDATE: The KHL decided on Sunday that he game will count with zero points and as a 5-0 defeat for each team. Vityaz Chekhov was fined 4 million Rubles (€92,000), Avangard Omsk 1 million Rubles (€23,000). Vityaz players Verot, Sugden, Zuborev, Bakhriddinov, Litvinenko, Megalinski, and Avangard player Vlasenko were suspended for one game. Verot, Sugden, Svitov and Vlasenko were fined 150,000 Rubles (€3,450). Both coaches were fined 50,000 Rubles (€1,150). Vityaz also received a warning that the club could be excluded from the KHL in the event of a similar violation that leads to the suspension of a game.
Compiled by IIHF.com staff
-- with files from N.Y. Times, Yahoo.com, Sovietsky Sport, KHL.ru