|Looks like a place where hockey might be played, yes! (photo by Evgeny Bakreshov, via Panoramio)|
First off, however, we had not one but two coach firings in the past week, meaning that nearly half the teams in the league have now changed coaches. First of all, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod dispensed with the services of Kari Jalonen, who had a cup of coffee as an Edmonton Oiler player back in the 1980s. Torpedo started the season as solid performers in the West Conference, but have since fallen all the way out of the playoff picture, and Jalonen's firing shouldn't come as a huge surprise given the short tempers evident in a considerable number of KHL front offices. Vyacheslav Ryanov has been promoted from the junior ranks as Jalonen's replacement.
Back to the Bashkirian theme of this post, as the other coach to lose his job was Salavat Yulaev's Vener Safin. Salavat Yulaev have not been their normal powerhouse selves this year, but this firing is a bit of a surprise. Before Safin was let go, his team looked like a good bet to finish between 5th and 8th in the East Conference, making the playoffs, and that still looks like a good bet. His replacement, at least for now, is Vladimir Yurzinov, whose father, also Vladimir, was a noteworthy player in the early days of the Soviet program.
Safin was fired on the 24th, and barely had that happened when approximately 200 teenagers descended on Ufa to play some hockey. Yes, as you probably know, the city is hosting this year's IIHF World Under-20 Championship, "The World Juniors" as it is more commonly called on this side of the pond. The home team got off to a shaky start, needing overtime to defeat Slovakia, but has since recovered with a regulation win over the United States. Of interest to Oiler fans, Nail Yakupov has 2 assists so far, as well as a scary but effective shot block late in the game against the Americans. Russia next faces the Germans, on Saturday the 29th.
Coach fired, home city overrun with junior players... it was time for Salavat Yulaev to get away, and they have done so. In fact, they've gone all the way to Switzerland, to represent the KHL in this year's Spengler Cup (if you have not yet encountered the wonderfulness that is the Spengler, hockey's oldest annual international competition, you are missing out!). The boys from Ufa, runners-up at the Spengler in 2007, were perhaps still a bit stunned when the tournament began; they were blown out 5-1 in their first game by the Swiss League's HC Fribourg-Gotteron. Their second game went better - an overtime victory over HC Vitkovice of the Czech Republic. Salavat Yulaev's next game is tomorrow, against hosts HC Davos, for the the right to face Vitkovice again in the semi-finals.
So, tumultuous hockey times in the heartland of the Bashkirs. Salavat Yulaev will return to KHL action on the 3rd of January, with a brief road trip to Chekhov and Kazan while the World Juniors finish up.