SKA St. Petersburg are back at it as Gagarin champions of 2017

SKA St. Petersburg are back at it as Gagarin champions of 2017

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At this time of the year, that emptiness strikes one again after a long season has ended. Some compare this feeling with being a balloon that let out all the air, some compare the feeling with something else.

I feel somehow myself an anti-climax, as I feel robbed of an epic final between two of the absolute best teams in the KHL and Europe, and two of the best teams outside the NHL.

Not even near something that resembles a classic strife over the title would we see over 5 games. SKA St. Petersburg were overall too good in their attacking game and Koskinen showed once again that he is really one of the best goaltenders in the world if we look outside North America.

Most of all, SKA’s passing game was smooth and it looked very easy when they entered the Magnitogorsk zone, and they were able to get to shoot easily too.

And, so it was during the whole playoff when they eliminated Vityaz Podolsk, Dynamo Moscow and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl on the way to the title. The two latter teams were supposed to give SKA a fight, but no, they were almost defeated as easily as Vityaz was in the first round.

This version of SKA St. Petersburg was basically a rock steady foundation, perhaps even stronger than when they won the Gagarin Cup for the first time two years ago.

Maybe all depended on a bit of the shift of the coach, from Zubov to Znarok for this season. Nothing wrong with Zubov really as he does have also an amount of know-how of the game.

But Znarok has definitely more integrity and something we could call a “commanding presence”, which Zubov didn’t have really. Not enough for an organization such as SKA St. Petersburg.

Oleg Znarok. Image courtesy: http://www.hokejportal.cz

For the team’s sake, including Kovalchuk who can lose the plot sometimes, it was very important to have a coach as Znarok who won’t tolerate any escape from the plans he has set up or any disrespectful behavior no matter who the players are.

Roman Rotenberg can, therefore, tap his own shoulder and shake his own hand for signing Znarok as the head coach for the team this season. Light up another cigar of victory and smile with a feeling of great relief.

SKA St. Petersburg eliminated Magnitogorsk and their best snipers including the goal king himself, Mozyakin. None were given a chance to shoot as easily on Koskinen’s net as SKA could do themselves at Koschechkin’s.

It looked so smooth and easy as I said and in the fifth game, they were behind by 2-0 with almost half the game played but a quick turn they managed to set up; 2-3 was the score when the second period was over. Magnitogorsk was more or less a defeated team by that turn of SKA St. Petersburg.

If I may mention Magnitogorsk a bit here, their game was a lot stiffer and they had to struggle for every shot they could shoot against Koskinen’s net. From time to time though they could set up a longer play in the SKA zone, but it was far from enough to make the final series to an epic hockey saga.

SKA have now their second title within a quite short time. The foundation of the SKA building is getting stronger by the years as long as Rotenberg is in control of the organization.

It will be interesting to see which players in the future Rotenberg will be able to bring to the team. Datsyuk is about to see his very last days as a hockey player, at least at this level. Kovalchuck has some more years left and then the NHL is attracting some of the players due to the success. I am thinking about Dadonov and Schipachyov for example.

Yet, there is a bigger question lying on Rotenberg’s table (together with the other owners) right after this season: how to evolve the KHL to become a stronger league in the nearest feature?

But, now are SKA celebrating as they should, and they did it in the best way, to show everyone that they were definitely the best team this season.

The integral part of being a star is having the will to win. All the champions have it.

-Betty Cuthbert

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