After Ak Bars secured its Gagarin Cup triumph with Sunday’s 1-0 victory over CSKA, players from the Kazan team spoke about what it meant to them. Meanwhile, CSKA’s players reflected on what went wrong for the team after losing the Gagarin Cup final 4-1.
Danis Zaripov, five-time Gagarin Cup winner
“The feeling is the same after every victory – it’s the best feeling in the world. You can’t compare it to anything else. Every season, we start by trying to win it all. And, once again, that’s what we’ve done.
“It was a very unpleasant situation for me at the start of the season [when Zaripov was serving a ban for doping offenses]. It’s a relief that we could get out of that, win justice and finish the season on a successful note.
“This series against CSKA wasn’t easy, even if we won it in five games. Look at the games – every one decided by a single goal. Somehow our talent, our experience and a bit of luck helped us.
“I think after Kazan won it three times, the directors might have to think about renaming the Gagarin Cup as the Tatar Cup! As for me, the fifth cup is no heavier than all the others; the only differences is the names that were added since last time!”
Emil Garipov, goalie, Ak Bars
“It was a bit easier playing in the final than it was in the earlier rounds, because we knew it was the final. Psychologically it wasn’t so hard, the main thing was just to play our best hockey. And, thank God, I did that in the final series. Of course, it’s physically draining, but we prepared for that all season. That gave us the strength and fitness we needed.
“I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone, I just wanted to win the cup with my home team. I’ve always dreamed of winning the cup with Ak Bars, and we’ve done it. I’m a Tatar. I was born in Kazan and I’ve always lived here, and now I’ve won the cup here.”
Stanislav Galiyev, forward, Ak Bars
“I don’t want to talk about individuals in these playoffs. I just love playoff hockey, it’s another game and for me it feels different. Maybe I got a bit more confidence, but that’s thanks to my line-mates who did everything for me. I was just left to take my chances.
“I’m really glad I came back to Russia and I’m delighted to be here in Kazan. Now, God willing, we’ll see Washington follow us and win their cup in a couple of months. I’ll be following their progress.”
Andrei Markov, defenseman, Ak Bars
“Right now it’s a mix of happiness and exhaustion. It’s been a long, hard season, everything we’ve worked for pointed towards this moment. I’d like to congratulate everyone involved with the team. I’m sure everyone in this town is happy tonight.
“Can Ak Bars win it again? Let’s celebrate this one first and get our breath back! In Kazan there’s only ever one target – win the cup. We’ll recover from this season then we need to start thinking about how to prepare for the next one.
“Zaripov’s a unique player. Winning it five times is a huge achievement. The league has only been going 10 years, and he’s won the cup five times. I’m really happy for him. I hope today we can celebrate with the whole city.”
Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, head coach, Ak Bars
“I would highlight our whole team. Of course, everyone played to his level but they all came together to complete one task. It was a great effort, I can’t criticize anybody, my tongue wouldn’t let me. Every player worked honestly, some scored, others defended but the whole team worked as one. They’re great guys, and I’m thrilled for them.
“Garipov did really will. It’s a big thing for him, showing that he can overcome himself. He has had his difficulties in the past but he found the answers and found a way to win. First and foremost, he proved that he can play at a high level and win.”
Dmitry Chernyshenko, KHL president
“The final produced a surprise result – almost everyone was expecting an easy win for CSKA. Maybe on behalf of the league I’d have liked more games in the final, but the main thing is that this result sets up a real celebration here in Tatarstan.
“Next season will be very interesting, we’re moving into a new era. Our star players will be more evenly shared among the clubs and we will see more young players emerging. We’ve already heard about the plans that CSKA and SKA have to bring more youngsters into their rosters in the coming campaign.”
Sergei Andronov, forward, CSKA
“What can I say? It’s really disappointing how it all turned out. Right now it’s hard to say anything. Unfortunately, we need to face the truth and understand that we lost the final because we didn’t do the right things. We tried to play on the front foot, we weren’t interested in playing defensively, but we failed to take our chances. It’s impossible to win if you don’t score goals.”
Andrei Kuzmenko, forward, CSKA
“Right after the game it’s hard to think about the whole series. But if you take a moment, it’s clear that in every game we made costly mistakes. Ak Bars punished us for that. They have an experienced team and I think that played a part. We couldn’t capitalize on their mistakes. I wouldn’t say it was all down to our power play. Ak Bars didn’t score a lot on the power play either. In the playoffs, the opposition studies your every step. It’s really tough to come up with something new.
“We need to take a little time to understand this season and work out whether we did well or badly. Our game was decent, but we couldn’t win the Gagarin Cup. Ak Bars had a stronger defense. We’ve seen this for so many years, since Bilyaletdinov first introduced those tactics, and year after year they do the same things. SKA was more committed to attack, that was the only difference. I guess that helped CSKA in the Conference Final, I don’t think beating SKA took too much out of us.”
Justin Azevedo, forward, Ak Bars and playoff MVP
“It’s just unbelievable! We’ve been through so much, it’s been tough, but right now we’re so happy that we won the cup. Being named as MVP [the first time a foreign player has won the award] doesn’t mean much right now. We won it all!”