The final against Arlan Kokshetau went all the way to a seventh game, and prior to that Saryarka’s semi-final match-up with Nomad was settled in game six, with the Nur-Sultan based opponent twice winning on the road in Karaganda. In total, Peteris Skudra’s team played 17 post season games to retain its crown.
“I’m very grateful to the guys for their commitment,” said head coach Skudra, who took over at Saryarka in January. “All 22 of them went out on the ice today and gave it everything. Without that, we would never have won this series.
“It was a tough final series, and it wasn’t an easy play-off for us overall. The second round wasn’t easy and then against Arlan we went to a seventh game that demanded everything from us. It was a really even series, and it depended on precisely the character that we showed in the big moments today.
“Everybody left it all out there on the ice and that swung it in our favour.”
Arlan, too, had a long post-season. A sweep of Kulager in the first round was followed by a seven-game struggle with Beibarys before the grand final.
In that final series, there were several tight games. Twice, the teams went to overtime, with Saryarka getting the verdict both times. Two other encounters ended with narrow 2-1 victories for Arlan.
Such a close-fought final series was no surprise. In the regular season, just one point separated table-topping Saryarka from second-placed Arlan. Considering that Arlan forfeited the first game of the season when it was unable to play at Saryarka, the difference between the leading teams was clearly negligible.
In the decisive clash on Saturday, Saryarka finished the job with a convincing 5-2 scoreline. Even then, though, the game remained in the balance until the closing stages. Saryarka opened a 2-0 lead on goals from Denis Fedorov and Sayan Daniyar, but that lead evaporated when Arlan struck twice in five minutes late in the middle frame. Home goalie Vladimir Kramar was perhaps the most relieved man in the arena when Mikhail Rakhmanov struck nine seconds before the intermission to restore Saryarka’s lead: his uncharacteristic failure to deal with a speculative Pavel Volodin shot gifted Nikita Lukin the chance to stuff the puck home on the crease. Rakhmanov arrived at the back door to convert Nikita Anokhovsky’s feed and put the home team up 3-2 going into the third.
That wasn’t quite the end of the story. It took a couple of power play goals in the final stanza to give Saryarka a more comfortable cushion and clinch a second championship in two seasons, triggering great celebrations from a capacity crowd.
“Today our fans were our sixth, even our seventh player,” Skudra added. “Thanks to them for all their support in these play-offs, and throughout the season.”
For Skudra, this was a first trophy as a coach. The 49-year-old Latvian goalie enjoyed a distinguished playing career, playing 147 NHL games for Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Boston and Vancouver. Since retiring in 2007, he has coached in the KHL with five seasons behind the bench at Torpedo Nizhni Novgorod plus spells Traktor and Dinamo Riga.
The individual awards for the season were also announced after the final. Arlan’s goalie Ilya Rumyanstev was voted best netminder, while two Saryarka players also picked up prizes. Latvian defenceman Edgars Siksna and the game-winning goalscorer Rakhmanov were chosen as the best players in their positions. Aktobe’s Ivan Zinchenko was named best young player.