A returning coach, a replacement of the ‘old guard’ and the arrival of a Stanley Cup winner – it’s been a busy summer in Yaroslavl as Lokomotiv looks to improve.
For Lokomotiv, 2016-17 ended in disappointment. A strong regular season campaign held out high hopes of a good run in the playoffs, only for SKA to shut down Alexei Kudashov’s team in the first round. When post-season came around, Loko’s offense froze. Three straight shut-outs saw the team’s campaign end with a whimper.
That obscured many of the good things that happened in Kudashov’s first season beside the Volga. The emergence of goalie Alexei Murygin into a record-breaking presence between the piping after years as a journeyman. The team’s push to the top of the table before CSKA finally pulled away in the new year. Daniil Apalkov’s growing maturity to become the team’s scoring leader after the departure of Sergei Plotnikov.
It’s also prompted a reshuffle within the club this summer. Dmitry Yushkevich, renowned for his ability to lock down defenses, is back on the coaching staff after a season behind the bench at Severstal. Experienced goalie Vitaly Kolesnik is moving back to his native Kazakhstan, joining up with national team coach Andrei Nazarov at Barys. More experience is leaving – Ilya Gorokhov and Jiri Novotny, two players who have gone all the way to the Gagarin Cup final at Dynamo Moscow and Lev Prague respectively, are off to Sochi and Chelyabinsk.
But the ‘in’ column also generates excitement, not least in the form of Max Talbot. The 32-year-old Canadian arrives from the Bruins with a wealth of NHL experience on his resume. He broke into the Penguins team in 2005-06 and went on to make 788 league and playoff appearances in Pittsburgh, Phillie, Colorado and Boston. The most notable of those, undoubtedly, came in 2009. Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, Pittsburgh against the Red Wings … and two Talbot goals claimed a 2-1 victory and brought the big cup to the Steel City.
The center is an exciting acquisition for Lokomotiv, a player who is capable of garnering headlines on and off the ice. A radio interview in 2010 saw him trash talking Alexander Ovechkin ahead of the Winter Classic series between Pittsburgh and the Caps – a half-forgotten incident that could gain new notoriety in a land where Ovi’s popularity is beyond question.
A second big signing on offense is Brandon Kozun from Jokerit. The 26-year-old Canadian had a good first KHL season in Helsinki, potting six points in six playoff appearances after returning 15+34=49 in regular season. With a year’s experience of the league he is likely to play an important role in helping Talbot to adapt quickly, as well as contributing valuable scoring of his own to reinforce Apalkov’s ever-growing effectiveness.
On the blue line, the departure of Gorokhov is offset by the arrival of Denis Osipov, fresh from helping Metallurg Magnitogorsk lift the Gagarin Cup. The 29-year-old first showed his potential with a strong campaign in Admiral’s debut KHL season and moved to Metallurg midway through the campaign just finished, making a useful contribution to the roster in the playoffs.