The decisive game was played in Atyrau and, with 10 minutes to go, it looked comfortable for the host. Leading 3-1 in a series where no game had been settled by more than a single goal, the title seemed assured. Then came two quick goals from Nomad and suddenly we were plunged into a fourth overtime in five games.
Beibarys had to absorb some pressure at the start of the extras, with Nomad eager to finish the job after Artemi Akizer and Alikhan Asetov tied the game up in regulation. But a quick breakout saw Andrei Ivanov chase a long pass into the visitor’s zone before serving up a dish for the on-rushing Yevgeni Deryabin. His one-timer from the deep slot beat teenager Denis Karatayev in the Nomad goal and secured both game and championship for Beibarys.
Deryabin was a fitting scorer. The 35-year-old learned his game in Russia’s second tier with Gazovik Tyumen, his home-town team, but joined Beibarys when the club was formed back in 2009 and has been part of all four of its championship teams since then. His goal sparked jubilant scenes in the compact arena in Atyrau, a city of more than 150,000 on Kazakhstan’s Caspian coast, and those celebrating fans also played their part in this latest success.
In total, Beibarys played eight home games in this season’s play-offs and it lost just one of them. In the final series, it won three times on home ice to clinch a 4-1 verdict. Mindful of the value of the home support, Beibarys made arrangements to help fans travel the 1,300 miles to the capital for games three and four of the series. There, the teams shared victories and defenceman Yegor Kutugin was impressed with the noise that came to the games.
“I’m hugely grateful to the fans who found time to travel here,” he told shaiba.kz. “And also to our directors, who found a way to get them here. It felt like we were on home ice, it was great and it means a lot to all the guys.”
“But the guys hung tough, they didn’t give up and they tied it up in the last seconds. Then, in the shoot-out, the skills of our players came to the fore; they were cold-blooded under pressure.”
Pressure was also an issue in game five, with Nomad’s third-period rally threatening to snatch the silverware away when it seemed that Beibarys had one hand on the trophy. Goalie Artyom Mikushin admitted that his overwhelming feeling at the end of the game was exhaustion. Forward Anton Nekryach also felt the tension in the closing stages. “It was a nervous game for us,” he said. “We got a lead and it looked like we had it won in regulation but then we allowed a couple of goals, maybe a bit soft goals. Luckily we were able to regroup and in overtime everything went out and left it all on the ice.
“Just look now. The arena is full, the fans are going crazy. It’s just top, really great.”
Smirnov, scorer of that vital late leveller in the previous game, may have feared that this was something he was never destined to experience in a career that had already taken in more than a decade in Russia’s lower leagues before he came to Beibarys three years ago. “It’s hard to put into words,” said the 32-year-old defenceman. “I’d never been to a final before, not even a semi-final. Thanks to everyone for helping us to do this.”
Beibarys got through its play-off campaign in just 14 games. A first-round sweep of Temirtau was followed by a 4-1 result against Kulager Petropavlovsk. Nomad, by contrast, needed all seven to edge past Arlan in the semi-finals.