GP: 735, G: 281, A: 366, Pts: 647, +/-: +212, PIM: 414
Teams: Ak Bars, Metallurg
In any league, you can find a lot of outstanding players who never reached the peak and finished their careers without getting a chance to the most coveted trophy. Or maybe that had a chance, but wasted it or couldn’t come up with the Cup. With Danis Zaripov, the situation is so different. He won the most Gagarin Cups with five — a record that will require some time to beat. So far, Yaroslav Kosov, Alexander Yeryomenko, and Dmitry Kazionov amassed three triumphs each, and it’s hard to say if they have another shot at the Cup and in any case, they will need another two victories not to surpass Zaripov, but merely to tie things up.
Naturally, when you win so many Cups, you are usually on the top level, and Zaripov’s list of accolades is so long that it would require a separate article. The native of Chelyabinsk had his first KHL Gagarin Cup title in the league’s first season when Ak Bars defeated Lokomotiv in seven games. Playing with the current KHL’s commissioner Alexei Morozov and one of the top imports of the league’s early years — the Swede Tony Martensson — Zaripov was part of one of the most-lethal troikas in the history of the league. With Morozov and Sergey Zinovyev, he also formed another fantastic line, the so-called ZZM unit, which led the way in both Russia and on the international stage in the 00s.
Danis Zaripov was synonymous with Ak Bars until 2013. In the 2013 offseason, the prolific forward signed with Metallurg. “I couldn’t even imagine that I would stay so many years with Ak Bars,” Zaripov told Magnigotorsk’s official site after inking a two-year deal. “Kazan became a second home for me. Probably, I was never ready to change environment. However, a pro hockey player can play only so many years, and anything can happen. Fate brought me to Magnitogorsk. It’s a new page in my career, and I hope that it will be rich in emotions and titles as much as it was with Ak Bars.” Naturally, Zaripov kept his promises. He — once again — formed one of the best troikas in the league with Sergei Mozyakin and Jan Kovar and also helped Metallurg winning two Gagarin Cups in 2014 and 2016, respectively. In Magnitogorsk, he also was the recipient of the KHL Iron Man award in 2016 and was selected to the KHL All-Star Game in each of his four seasons he played for the Urals-based franchise.
Four Gagarin Cup victories, several individual accolades, three IIHF World Championship gold medals, and a running-out contract at 36 years of age; many players would have hung them. Not Zaripov. After his four-year stint in Magnitogorsk, he decided to return to his second home, signing a new one-year contract in Kazan. The result? In the 2017-18 season — the first after his move back to Ak Bars — he won his fifth Gagarin Cup. In the next two years, he cemented his legacy as one of the best-ever Russian forwards to play in the KHL, and one of the most decorated players as well. In late April, Zaripov signed another one-year deal with Ak Bars, despite the rumors that he wanted him to negotiate a move to his native Chelyabinsk. Next year, he will have another shot at the Cup. Will Zaripov make it a six Cups legacy?