On top of the world

Troubled Spartak bounces back with juniors

01.09.2014
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Spartak Moscow is still alive – at least in junior hockey. Nikita Sokolov celebrates after winning the 2014 Junior Club World Cup. He scored for Spartak in regulation time in the all-Russian final against Tolpar Ufa. Photo: Alexander Filyukov / MHL

UFA, Russia – Spartak Moscow shrugged off the club’s troubles to win the Junior Club World Cup in Ufa against other club teams from some of the world’s best junior leagues.

The Red-and-Whites, winners of last season’s Kharlamov Cup in the Russian-based junior league MHL, suffered from the financial problems of the entire Spartak organization, losing the bulk of the championship roster to SKA St. Petersburg as part of a fund-raising push that keeps the club’s youth team on the ice for the coming season.

That determination to keep the club afloat found its echo in the team’s performance in a tournament where the odds were often stacked against it: in the group stage it failed to win in its first two games, and ended up facing home town hopefuls Tolpar Ufa in the final. But after forcing a 1-1 tie Spartak silenced the Ufa Arena crowd by snatching victory in a penalty shoot-out.

“This victory was down to our character, dedication and discipline,” head coach Vladimir Tyurikov said after the final. “For most of the game they had the edge but the guys’ dedication got us the right result.”

Spartak had to dig deep, especially early on. Tolpar started in fine style, outshooting Spartak 11-5 in the first period and forcing Alexander Trushkov into a string of fine saves. Trushkov found his best form as the tournament progressed, and it was largely due to his excellence that the home team only managed one goal in the opening stanza. Vasili Zhilov found the target late on with an impressive unassisted effort.

The pattern of play didn’t change much after the intermission: Tolpar continued to test Trushkov; Spartak struggled to create big chances. But a power-play goal from Nikita Sokolov in the 27th minute was good enough to tie the score. That was the end of the scoring, but not the end of the chances. At one end Trushkov took his saves tally to 33; at the other Yegor Yudov hit the piping for Spartak.

“How many chances did we have to win that game, and how many did we miss?” asked an incredulous Tolpar head coach Vener Safin after the game. “In the second intermission some of the guys couldn’t believe their eyes because it seemed like we’d done everything except score a goal. But overall a silver medal is a decent result, and we knew it would be hard to repeat the level of performance we had against the Canadians and the Americans.”

In the end it was Yudov who eventually settled matters after a nerve-jangling period of overtime failed to break the deadlock. He got the shoot-out winner to set this new-look Spartak roster off to a title-winning start and reinforce the club’s hopes for a bright future despite its on-going off-ice problems.

“To be honest I want to see everything work out OK for our club,” said goalie Trushkov after the game. “I can’t imagine ever playing for another club so hopefully we can attract a good sponsor and I can play my whole career here.

“We deserved to win this cup. We won the MHL and we earned the chance to represent our country here. We won it as a team.”

The MHL almost made it a clean sweep of the medals. Dynamo-Shinnik Bobruisk from Belarus led the United States Hockey League’s Sioux City Musketeers for much of the bronze medal game but a third-period equalizer took the game to overtime and the Americans took the verdict thanks to a goal from Sam Kurker in the third minute of overtime.

That left Sioux City coach Jay Varady reflecting on a tournament where his young braves suffered just two defeats, losing to both the finalists.

“I think our guys showed unbelievable bounce back,” he told ushl.com. “The bonding process has been fantastic. The guys spent a lot of time together... fantastic times, things we’ll laugh about all through the season. Usually you want a two or three-game road trip early in the season, and we’ve taken that to extremes.”

Varady was also quick to talk up the consistency of the USHL’s performances in this tournament after his team made it three World Cup medals in three years for the competition. And the MHL’s management also had plenty to cheer, both on and off the ice. League managing director Dmitri Yefimov summed up the tournament.

“It was a great tournament and I’m proud and happy that three of the four semi-finalists were from the MHL,” he said. “This suggests that the league is doing the right things. I hope the World Cup will continue and will become a significant hockey tournament.”

The Junior Club World Cup, now in its fourth year, brought together 10 teams. The MHL was represented by champion Spartak, host club Tolpar and an international contingent of Dynamo-Shinnik Bobruisk (Belarus), Red Bull Salzburg (Austria) and HK Riga (Latvia). Sioux City (USA) and the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (Canada) came from North America, representing the USHL and the QMJHL respectively. Europe’s other top youth leagues sent the Espoo Blues from Finland, Pirati Chomutov from the Czech Republic and the Malmo Red Hawks from Sweden.

The All-Star Team of the tournament, chosen by journalists at the event, was:
Goalie: Danil Romanov (Tolpar)
Defencemen: Kirill Ablayev (Spartak), Neal Pionk (Sioux City)
Forwards: Stepan Khripunov (Tolpar), Adam Johnson (Sioux City, also the leading scorer), Charles-Eric Legare (Cape Breton)

ANDY POTTS

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