A little over a month has passed since the end of the 2016-17 KHL Championship, and on Wednesday, the 24th of May, the League will officially mark the end of the season by rewarding many of its heroes. This is the perfect time for us to take stock and pay tribute to those who made the most progress during the Championship; those who stepped up to become stars or who strengthened their position as leaders of their teams. We begin by honoring the five best goaltenders.
Regular season: 45 games; Save Percentage: 92.7; Goals Against Average: 2.13; shutouts: 6.
Playoffs: 17 games; Save Percentage: 94.0; Goals Against Average: 2.15, shutouts: 2.
Few would argue with our choice for number one. The 34-year-old Magnitogorsk goaltender is in his prime and on top of his game. Having yet another great season under his belt, Vasily Koshechkin confirmed his status as the best Russian goaltender in the KHL.
Vasily’s team-mate, Sergei Mozyakin, spent much of the season smashing records and giving statisticians plenty of overtime as they were forced to re-write the record books, so it is understandable that the exploits of other Magnitka greats passed under the radar. Two of these certainly deserve a mention: on the January 7, the Steel City men won a vital Eastern Conference encounter with deadly rivals, Ak Bars, by a 2-0 score. This was Koshechkin’s 80th shutout in Russian championships, matching the record held by former New York Rangers, Dynamo Moscow, and Barys Astana legend Vitaly Yeremeyev. A month later, Koshechkin overtook Yeremeyev when he kept Barys off the scoreboard to help Magnitka record a 4-0 victory in Game 1 of the Conference semi-final. Six days and three games later, Koshechkin reached another significant milestone: his 500th match in the KHL.
A hallmark of Koshechkin’s game is his coolness at the crucial moments, especially in the playoffs. He has long given the impression that when the passions grow more intense and the series becomes more frantic, the Magnitogorsk goalie becomes cooler, calmer and more confident. This season was no exception, and on April 16, after the Gagarin Cup final defeat against SKA, Koshechkin was awarded the prize for Most Valuable Player of the knockout stage.
“I think we battled well throughout the series. We won the Eastern Conference, reached the Gagarin Cup final, and gave our all. Sadly, fortune was against us and we lost. SKA played as a team, and like us, they had a good series. Thank you to all the fans for getting behind us. It was a real pleasure to play in front of such support,” - said Koshechkin after Game 5 of the final series.
On April 13, it was announced that Vasily Koshechkin had extended his contract with Magnitogorsk for another two years.
Regular season: 39 games; Save Percentage: 93.7; Goals Against Average: 1.64; shutouts: 8.
Playoffs: 5 games; Save Percentage: 94.0; Goals Against Average: 1.84; shutouts: 0.
Last season, one of Russia’s most talented young goaltenders was finally given a chance to prove himself, and he grabbed the opportunity with both gloves. After nine games for Spartak, the teenager moved to the northern capital in the summer of 2014 to continue the long and arduous quest for a regular place between the pipes. After two years of shifting between the Petersburg men’s KHL, VHL and juniors’ sides, Shestyorkin ‘s chance arrived in September of 2016 when the highly experienced Finn, Mikko Koskinen, went to the World Cup on national team duty.
“At this age, match practice is everything. Without it, you just fade away. I wanted to play. Even two years ago, in the juniors, I still had this belief that I was good enough to play in the strongest league. I tried, I worked hard, produced the performances and now, eventually, I have arrived,” - said Shestyorkin in an interview KHL.ru.
In late September and early October, the young goalie enjoyed his most successful period in the League, despite still being only 20. He kept his goal intact for four(!) successive games, setting a new club record for the longest shutout spell, and his season total of 8 unbeaten games is just one short of the shutout king himself, Alexander Yeryomenko.
The achievements and accolades began to snowball – KHL goalie of the month for October, a call-up to the Russian national team in November, goaltender of the tournament at the Channel One Cup, and selection for January’s All-Star Game in Ufa.
March 23 saw young Igor make his debut in the playoffs, and four days later – Game 3 of the Conference Final series against Lokomotiv - an injury to Koskinen meant he was once again SKA’s main goalie until the Finn returned during the Gagarin Cup final. On April 16, Shestyorkin lifted the Gagarin Cup.
Regular season: 54 games; Save Percentage: 93.3; Goals Against Average: 1.87; shutouts: 7.
If anyone trots out the old saying, “Your goaltender is half your team,” then Juha Metsola springs to mind. In the 2016-17 regular season, the Finn featured in 54 games out of 60, ten more than in the previous campaign and the second-highest total in the League, beaten only by Dinamo Minsk netminder Ben Scrivens (55 games).
Metsola’s figures speak for themselves: even though Amur’s regular season once again ended in failure to reach the playoffs, he recorded the League’s 8th highest Save Percentage and 8th lowest Goals Against Average, not to mention his 7 shutouts.
The team’s most impressive statistic – a mere 130 goals allowed – is further evidence of the Finn’s contribution. In the entire Eastern Conference, only Avangard, Ak Bars and Traktor allowed fewer, and those teams all finished in the top four.
Thanks to Metsola’s agility and sharp reflexes, he is not merely reliable but quite often spectacular. He featured in the Top Ten saves of the week on a number of occasions, and one such effort was rated the third finest save of the regular season.
Regular season: 37 games; Save Percentage: 95.0; Goals Against Average: 1.29; shutouts: 9.
Playoffs: 10 games; Save Percentage: 92.8; Goals Against Average: 1.93; shutouts: 1.
On April 10, Alexander Yeryomenko reached the ripe old age of 37, but was fresh from what was statistically the best season of his KHL career (we shall assume his 3 successive Gagarin Cup triumphs, from 2010-13, were the best for positive emotions). By the end of the regular season, the Dynamo Moscow man occupied top place in the Goals Against Average listings, boasted the second-highest Save Percentage, and was the undisputed king of the shutouts with 9. The stats are even more stunning when one considers the injury Yeryomenko sustained against Dinamo Riga on October 26, which put him out of action for almost a month.
Following a troubled first half of the season, Dynamo began its mini-renaissance in the new year, and almost immediately the shutouts came thick and fast – in one incredible spell from the 7th to the 18th of January, Yeryomenko helped the Blue-and-Whites claim 5 victories in 6 matches, keeping the opposition off the scoreboard in 4 of them. Such was the Dynamo goaltender’s dominance that he was named goalie of the month in December, January, and February.
In the playoffs, the Dynamo veteran played for every minute of every game – ten in all – the first of which, against Torpedo on February 21, was yet another shutout – his 50th overall, making him the oldest goalie in KHL history to remain unbeaten in a Gagarin Cup playoff game.
Regular season: 40 games; Save Percentage: 92.9; Goals Against Average: 2.01; shutouts: 4.
Playoffs: 15 games; Save Percentage: 93.3; Goals Against Average: 1.85; shutouts: 2.
This 25-year-old graduate of the Kazan hockey school won World U20 Championship gold with Russia in 2010-11, and made his KHL debut for his beloved Ak Bars the following season. Over the next five years, his ice time steadily increased until, in the 2016-17 season, he made 40 regular season appearances and showed in the playoffs that he was more than capable of holding his own in the crucial battles. In the end, he played in all 15 post-season games and recorded 2 shutouts – a total matched only by our number one netminder, Vasily Koshechkin.