CSKA looks to finish season on top
The Championship of Russia among 2006-born teams will kick off on Tuesday. Ten teams will be divided into two groups of five, with four mainstays from the WHH Rankings among them. Group A will consist of No. 7 Salavat Yulaev Ufa, Ak Bars Kazan, Crystal, Lokomotiv 2004 Yaroslavl and Dynamo Minsk. Group B will include No. 1 CSKA Moscow, No. 4 SKA Silver Lions, No. 5 SKA Strelna, Siberia and Severstal Cherepovets. Here’s how we predict each team will finish in the divisions, and who has the best chance to secure the championship.
Ranking the teams in Group A
- Salavat Yulaev Ufa
Salavat Yulaev Ufa kicked off its 2022-23 campaign with a 10-game win streak. A performance that gave them solid enough ground to earn a spot in the Top 10 Russian rankings. For the entirety of this season, they have not relinquished a spot among the premier Russian clubs. Incredible scoring depth and dependable goaltending allowed the team to skate to a 30-5-3 record. Six of the top 10 scorers on the team have scored more than 30 points.
No one did it better than the duo of Georgy Sukharev and Daniel Kurmanaev. Each player ended with 57 and 47 points, respectively. Sukharev found the back of the net 35 times in 36 contests, recording almost a goal per game. Assisting on a majority of those was Kurmanaev, who notched 36 assists. Most of the team’s ranked matchups came against Yugra Yukior, with earlier in-season battles with Avangard Omsk. The bottom line is they have no issue handling teams they should beat.
- Lokomotiv 2004 Yaroslavl
The case for Lokomotiv 2004 Yaroslavl is an interesting one. A strong finish to the regular season gave them a 13-13-7 record. The results in the win column were not there as often as the team would have hoped, but they still held their own against some of the best in Russia. Close losses to CSKA Moscow, Spartak Moscow and Dynamo Moscow proved that the team has the ability to hang with the big clubs. A different bounce here or there may have led to more positive results. Entering the tournament as one of the hotter teams, they are riding a four-game win streak. A big question for Lokomotiv will be if Matvey Kazakov can continue to lead the attack and build upon his 18 goals and 38 points.
- Ak Bars Kazan
Ak Bars Kazan hovered around the bubble of entering the Top 10 Russian rankings but was unable to crack it. Despite a 38-3-1 record, they have yet to clash with any of the premier programs from the ‘06 birth year. As a result, all eyes will be on them to see how they fare when the talent level rises. Leading scorer Oleg Kuznetsov will be tasked with doing the heavy lifting on offense. He has recorded 34 goals and 75 points.
Crystal ended the regular season 27-9-0, and are in the midst of a three-game win streak. Consistent production from Matvei Vasilyuk was a large part of that record. With 14 points (4G, 9A) in his last 10 games, Vasilyuk brought his season total to 53 points by the club’s final contest. Artem Leichenko’s 19 goals and 49 points are second behind him.
- Dynamo Minsk
Similar to Crystal, Dynamo Minsk comes into the championship tournament on a win streak of its own. The team was victorious in the last four outings to bring their total to 28-11-5.
Can anyone upset the top seed in Group B?
- CSKA Moscow
Having been defeated just twice all season, CSKA Moscow has been a mainstay atop the ‘06 Russian rankings all year long. The schedule was littered with matchups against the top teams of the birth year, and they answered the call with a resounding 33-2-0 record. CSKA does have previous meetings with two teams in the group. On August 26th, they defeated SKA Strelna 8-1. They also opened their season with a 3-0 shutout of SKA Silver Lions on August 23rd of last year.
On a 12-game winning streak, you have to go all the way back to December 12 for their last loss, 6-5 to Spartak Moscow. 10 players have recorded at least 20 points collectively, led by Ivan Okunev (37G, 41A) and Ilya Pautov (17G, 34A). Both players have also suited up in action for CSKA Moscow’s U18 team as well. Battle tested and deep, CSKA enters this tournament as favorites to win it all.
- SKA Strelna
Despite dropping their most recent decision to SKA Silver Lions, SKA Strelna has gotten the better of them in their regular season series. In eight contests, Strelna was victorious in five of them. Three of the meetings went past regulation, with Strelna winning twice in overtime and once in a shootout. Four of the games were also decided by just one goal, with the largest margin of victory coming for Silver Lions in a 6-0 final on September 25th. Makar Opolinsky’s 27 goals and 62 points are first for Strelna, tied with Evgeny Novikov (26G, 36A).
- SKA Silver Lions
The Silver Lions ended their regular season schedule strong with a four-game win streak. Included in that run was a 5-3 victory over SKA Strelna on April 15th. Along with CSKA and Strelna, the Silver Lions make Group B a three-team race to see who will come out on top. Egor Grakhov has done most of the scoring for the Silver Lions, collecting 61 points. Three other players behind him have also notched at least 50 points as well. With a high-powered, heavy attack up front, the Silver Lions should be on the radar to contend for a playoff spot.
- Severstal Cherepovets
Severstal has experience against Strelna and the Silver Lions, facing off with each three times during the regular season. They were unable to get a win in those games, and were collectively outscored 40-11. Searching to find some positive ground, Severstal have lost their last five games heading into the tournament.
On an impressive 20-game winning streak dating back to January 14th, Siberia has yet to play consistently among the best competition of the birth year. They have experience against some bubble teams such as Auto Spartakovets and Avangard Omsk. Siberia even had a clash with No. 8 Metallurg Magnitogorsk earlier this season, falling in a 5-0 final.