The mainstream North American hockey media loves clickbait, and nowhere is that more evident than their discussion of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). While Europe’s top hockey league does have its problems, it’s nowhere near the dirty brawlfest and financial cesspool the media portrays. Ahead of the August 24th start of the regular season, I’m here to bring you the real KHL: a league full of skilled players, electric fanbases, and amusing all-star skills competitions. Today, we look at Admiral Vladivostok (Cyrillic: Адмирал Владивосток).
Molot-Primakie Perm (VHL)
Kristall Berdsk (MHL B)
Being a fairly new team, Admiral was born in 2013 as an expansion team playing in the brand-new Fetisov Arena in the Far East city. “Admiral” was the name chosen in a contest, and pays homage to the town’s massive naval port. Admiral made the playoffs in their first season, thanks to elite goalkeeping by youngster Yevgeni Ivannikov, and even snagged a playoff win in their first series against Magnitogorsk. However, thanks in part to key offseason departures like Ivannikov and scoring leader Felix Schütz, Year Two did not live up to the promise of Year One, and the team missed the playoffs.
Admiral’s all-time leading scorer is Niclas Bergfors, who sits 11 goals and 27 points ahead of countryman Richard Gynge in their respective categories, and 10 assists ahead of Ilya Zubov. He also leads the franchise in games played — five games more than second-place Artyom Zemchyonok. After struggles in North America, and a brief stint in Sweden, Bergfors – though he is out of contract – appears to have finally found a home in Vladivostok.
Vladivostok is located in Russia’s Far East, in the Primorsky Krai, on the Golden Horn Bay. The Krai shares two international borders, and in its southwest houses a point where the borders of the People’s Republic of China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the Russian Federation all meet. The nearest KHL team is 761 km away in Khabarovsk, and the two contest an intense Far East Derby on the opening and closing weekends of the season, and in both of Admiral’s seasons, the closing weekend had playoff implications. The fires of rivalry started early, with Admiral’s first coach being Amur Khabarovsk’s coach at the time. Recently, many members of Admiral’s front office – including team president Alexander Mogilny…yes, that one – moved up the M60 highway to Khabarovsk.
2014/15: The Season In Review
A roller coaster and revolving door at once. The team ended the season with a different coach than they started with (Dusan Gregor was replaced in November by Sergei Shepelev), a third different starting goalkeeper, many new players, and ultimately it ended below the red line. It was close though; despite shaky goalkeeping from rookie Ivan Nalimov (.900 SV%, despite a strong early season after taking over for the meddling Ari Ahonen) and midseason acquisition/shootout specialist Ilya Proskuryakov (.902), the team was in a playoff spot on the final day in between their 6-0 home demolition of Amur, and just needed Traktor to defeat Ural rivals Avtomobilist in regulation at home. However, that didn’t happen, as the Motorists managed to snag an equalizing goal late in the second, and held on to send the game to a shootout, pushing them to 81 points, above the red line and sending Admiral (who had more wins and a better goal differential) to the golf course.
Chicago Blackhawks fans may like this team: head coach Alexander Andriyevskiy spent the 1992-93 season in their system, playing a single NHL game. He’s not the only Windy City connection in the city by the (Golden Horn) bay, as goalkeeper Ivan Nalimov, acquired for Ivannikov in the 2014 preseason, was drafted in the 6th round of the 2014 NHL Draft by Chicago.
Speaking of drafts, how about a draft flop? Nikita Filatov had big expectations when he was taken 6th overall by Columbus in 2008. However, due to a lackluster work ethic, he never panned out with the Jackets. After a year split in the Ottawa organization, he was loaned to CSKA Moskva, and later signed with Salavat Yulaev Ufa. Since then, he’s bounced around; after being acquired by Admiral from Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod in exchange for goalkeeper Ilya Proskuryakov, he’s now been on 5 KHL teams over the last 3 seasons. Will he finally find his game again in the Far East? Admiral supporters hope so, but he has to prove it. With the team’s all-time leading scorer Niclas Bergfors out of contract and his future up in the air, Filatov will be looked to to be “the man.”
Other ex-NHL players on the team include former Dallas Star Tom Wandell (acquired in a trade with Omsk for Schütz), and former Rangers prospect Yevgeni Grachyov (known in North America as Evgeny Grachev, because the CHL and NHL fail miserably at transliteration), who re-joins his 2013/14 side after being acquired in a trade with Lokomotiv for Andrei Sigaryov.
Semi-Obscure Players To Watch
Konstantin Makarov was a pleasant surprise in Vladivostok last season. He spent the prior season in the VHL with champions Saryarka Karaganda (earning the playoff MVP award in the Kazakh side’s triumph), and re-adjusted to the KHL right away, posting 22 points and showing the potential he had shown in the league’s first season with Neftekhimik.
Like another team on the Pacific coast, we’ve got twins in Vladivostok! The twins in question are the Ushenin twins, Vladislav and Vyacheslav. Both were signed from VHL affiliate Molot-Prikamie Perm in 2014, and both posted around 15 points in their first KHL seasons. They’re 23 years old and may be players to watch in the K in the future. However, it may not be in Vladivostok; rumors have linked them – along with a motherload of other Admiral players – with rivals Amur Khabarovsk, due to virtually the entire front office that signed them moving there.
You would like this team if….
You’re an insomniac – games are usually at 4am or 1am Eastern Time – but want to watch a team that can battle it out for a playoff spot and occasionally scare a top team.
Stay tuned – Ak Bars Kazan is next!