KYIV – A dramatic Ukrainian ice hockey season came to end with a 2-1 victory for Kompanion-Naftogaz Kyiv over Bily Bars Bila Tserkva in the fifth game of the final series.
It was the first time ever a final series in Ukraine went to the deciding game. The other interesting fact is that neither Kompanion nor Bily Bars had ever won a Ukrainian title before reaching the final.
The series of the best two teams of the Ukrainian league was also a battle between the most successful Ukrainian coaches since the country’s independence in the early ‘90s. Both Olexanders –Seukand and Kulikov – won many titles before with Sokil Kyiv and Berkut Kyiv, and both dreamed to write history with their new clubs.
Until the final could be played, however, it was a struggle since the Professional Hockey League (PHL) as well as some teams folded. Eventually a six-team championship was created in October by the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine. The two finalists faced Sokil Kyiv, Generaly Kyiv, Levy Lviv and Gaidamaky Vinnytsia in the preliminary round although the latter team was removed after not being able to play several games.
Both Kompanion and Bily Bars dominated the round-robin stage with 24 games for each team. Kompanion finished the regular season in first position and had the easier semi-final seed where it beat Levy Lviv while Bily Bars beat twelve-time Ukrainian champion Sokil.
The final series started with two Kompanion wins on home ice. Fans were looking for a 3-0 sweep but Bily Bars made a comeback with two home wins in Bila Tserkva.
Fans from both teams filled the tiny ATEK ice rink with 1,000 fans to witness the deciding game and the crowd was so loud that players could hardly hear the referee’s whistle.
Valentyn Aleksyuk scored a lucky goal for Kompanion at the beginning of the game. Several minutes later 44-year-old veteran Vitali Lytvynenko appeared in the right place at the right time and scored the second goal. The best scorer in Ukrainian national team history had joined Kompanion from Bily Bars for this season.
Former Latvian U20 national team player Janis Straupe scored for Bily Bars to cut the lead but his team didn’t get closer. Kompanion won the game 2-1 and the series 3-2 to complete the medal set after silver in 2013 and bronze in 2007 and 2011. It was the third time Bily Bars has lost in the final series.
“We were fully aware that we should play our game at our home rink. We just did our job,” said Lytvynenko.
“I’m so happy to win this title! Two years ago we were fourth, last season won silver and now made the golden step. After two losses in Bila Tserkva our fans continued supporting us. They were our sixth man on the ice,” said Kompanion goalie Sergei Zavyalov.
“Of course we are disappointed. We made a big comeback after two loses and lost the decisive match. Anyway we are waiting the next season with big optimism,” said Bily Bars’s forward Sergi Babynets.
The club season is not entirely over yet as Ukrainian fans saw good news in the KHL where Donbass Donetsk had to play the last game of the Western Conference’s quarter-finals in exile due to the turmoil in eastern Ukrainian city. But Donbass won its “home” game in Bratislava against Dinamo Riga 3-1 to clinch the series and reach the conference semi-finals against Lev Prague.
Ukrainian league awards:
Best goalkeeper: Mykhaylo Balaban, Sokil
Best Defenceman: Dmytro Tolkunov, Bily Bars
Best forward: Sergi Chernenko, Kompanion
Scoring leader: Artem Bondariev, Bily Bars
Play-off MVP: Sergei Zavyalov, Kompanion
– with files from the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine