Most previews I have seen have had Vityaz Podolsk outside the playoffs. The only difference between these previews was how far from the knockouts Vityaz should be.
And, I am not that low a person that I can’t admit that I was myself totally wrong about Vityaz. I am happy for the team and the whole organization that they finally reached the playoff after all the years of struggling.
Those who have followed the KHL since the start, after it took over from the Russian highest division as the main league, know also Vityaz’ disreputable history very well.
A very dark and ugly tale it was with Darcy Verot as the leader of the pack that had no other intentions than just to destroy the games by starting actual fights with fists and sticks.
Some perhaps thought it was entertaining: “It is Russia” or the more sarcastic “Only in Russia”.
But even the KHL Board saw that awful conduct was not good for the league and its image and gave them heavy warnings.
Since those days, and especially the move back to Podolsk from Chekhov where they were located between the years 2004-2013, it has been an anonymous existence, as a rare fish swimming around deep in the oceans.
Even the habitants of the city of Podolsk in the Moscow Oblast (County) have been acting like the team has not been existing at all.
Only a few, and the closest relatives have attended the games and watched them lose up to 90 percent of the time.
However, like Jaromir Jagr and Sergei Mozyakin, Maxim Afinogenov seems never to age at all; on the contrary, he has been playing this season as if he were twenty again.
Afinogenov is the new and the true leader of Vityaz with his gained experience and he showed the way throughout the season.
One significant moment where he showed his tremendous skill that can make everybody’s jaws drop to the floor was the away game against Slovan Bratislava. The Slovakian side had then still a chance, the last opportunity to reach the playoffs.
Vityaz with Afinogenov on top crushed instead of the Slovan dreams totally from the very beginning of that game, with skill and efficiency in the scoring.
It was then I realized myself that Vityaz really deserved their playoff spot, without any doubts.
Furthermore, Vityaz showed that ability as well during many games before that, with a great level of skillfulness in every part of the game.
To be even fairer to Vityaz, they have been even more balanced in their performances than Jokerit for example.
For that reason, their coming playoff campaign can be looked at in two ways:
-No one expects them to pass the first round, but they are now a dangerous team with a lot of confidence and enough skill to make the games a nightmare. The opponents should be respectful, or else they will be chewed up.
-If they lose, it was expected and no harm really as they’ve done more than expected this season, reaching the playoffs.
The big question for now: Will Afinogenov shoot Vityaz to the sky? Are the players prepared to sacrifice themselves to reach that point?
Nothing seems to be impossible when it comes to this season’s version of Vityaz Podolsk, as they have been through a magic transformation, from being a notorious bottom team with a bad reputation to a playoff team with skill at every level.
The starting point of all achievement is desire.
The Gagarin playoffs 2016-17