They came, saw, – and reached the semifinals, at least. Now Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg is out to confirm its strong performance at its second consecutive Spengler Cup.
Barely anyone knew the city, barely anyone the club, barely anyone the players. That may sound slightly exaggerated - yet, the statement does have some truth to it. Truly, at last year’s Spengler Cup Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg was the big unknown. After appearances by numerous KHL heavy weights such as CSKA Moscow, SKA St. Petersburg, or Salavat Yulaev Ufa, to just name a few, it was a smaller representative of the world’s second-best league that started at this traditional tournament for the first time.
Today we definitely know who Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg is. The team of coach Andrey Razin sold themselves well in the Mountains of Grisons and fought its way into the semifinals with wins against HC Davos and Adler Mannheim. In the championship the primary goal was achieved: a seventh-place regular season finish in the Eastern Conference led to a third consecutive playoff berth. It was there, however, where – also for the third consecutive time – the season ended: the later champion Metallurg Magnitogorsk was simply overpowering.
Summer changed everything
The following summer general manager Oleg Gross overhauled the squad. 15 players left the club (including goaltender Jakub Kovar as well as the two forwards Ondrey Roman and Eero Elo), and 13 new ones came. Although it is still too early to come to any long-term conclusions, Gross’ transfer market activity has resulted in a reasonable start of the season. The seemingly “small” KHL club led by Czech star forward and captain Petr Koukal has been able to keep pace with the big competitors.
Though Avtomobilist may be a small club, Yekaterinburg is in no way a small town. With a population of around 1.4 million, it is not only Russia’s fourth largest city, but also the unofficial capital of the Ural region. Yekaterinburg, due to multiple important military bases was not accessible to foreigners during the Soviet era, is also a sports region, which in the past has produced many famous athletes, especially hockey players (Pavel Datsyuk, Alexey Yashin, Nicolay Khabiboulin, Vladimir Malakov, and more). Yet the local hockey teams has barely celebrated any success. At least Avtomobilist, which got its name from the local transport company Svardlavtrans, has participated in the KHL since the 2009/10 season. The team plays its home games at KRK Uralez, a venue that holds 5570 spectators. On the ice Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg is a middle of the pack team. Their standard is to reach the playoffs, but the big success –moving on to the next round – has yet to be achieved. Looking at the team’s continuous development (2010 playoffs, 2011/2012/2013 missed the playoffs, 2014/2015/2016 playoffs) shows it is time for the next step. And who knows, that step might already come at the Spengler Cup.