North American trio could lift Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan is a classic elevator team, and few were surprised when it bounced straight back into the top division with gold in Division IA last year. But history shows that staying among the elite is often a challenge too far for the Kazakhs.
In 2014, the last time Kazakhstan featured at the highest level, it was a case of so near and yet so far. A shootout loss to Germany and an overtime reverse against the Americans gave the team two points; single goal defeats against Latvia and Finland suggested that the Central Asians were capable of competing at this level but those narrow margins combined to leave Ari-Pekka Selin’s roster bottom of the group and enduring that sinking feeling once again.
This time, under the guidance of head coach Andrei Nazarov, the team is boosted by the naturalization of Brandon Bochenski, Nigel Dawes and Dustin Boyd, three North American forwards who starred for Barys Astana in the KHL. There’s also a welcome return for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl goalie Vitali Kolesnik.
Long-serving netminder Vitali Yeremeyev retired after the 2014 Championship, leaving Pavel Poluektov of Barys to backstop the team to goal in Poland last year. But the return of Vitali Kolesnik for his first international action since 2013 is a boost for a team that tends to give up too many goals at this level. The Lokomotiv Yaroslavl goalie shared the #1 spot with KHL record-breaker Alexei Murygin during the regular season and had a GAA of 1.99 and two shut-outs in 26 appearances.
There’s no Kevin Dallman this time – the veteran Canadian-born D-man is back home for family reasons and won’t come to Moscow. Dallman’s contribution will be missed at both ends of the rink. His absence will put further pressure on the Kazakh PK, which was the weakest in the 2014 Worlds after giving up 14 goals in seven games with a success rate of just 61.1%.
Russian fans, in particular, will be watching for Damir Ryspayev. The 21-year-old Barys enforcer earned instant notoriety with 111 penalty minutes in just 16 KHL games this season. He earned three match expulsions – two against Medvescak and another against Avangard – and four major penalties, including one in a fight with Russian tough-guy Yevgeni Artyukhin. Following his assault on Avangard’s Czech D-man Michal Kempny in a 7-2 home defeat in January, Ryspayev was handed a five-game ban and was explicitly censured by the league’s disciplinary panel for “an offence that in no way corresponds to the letter of the law, nor the spirit of the game”.
The big news on offence is the availability of long-serving Barys Astana trio Brandon Bochenski, Nigel Dawes and Dustin Boyd. Bochenski, who tasted World Championship action in Russia in 2007 as part of Team USA’s roster, has been playing KHL hockey in Kazakhstan since 2010, while his two line-mates arrived a year later. After gaining Kazakh citizenship, all three were given the all-clear to play for the national team at the end of March. They’ve all scored heavily for Barys – U.S.-born Bochenski has 143+198=341 points in 340 games, while former Canadian U20 internationals Dawes and Boyd both amassed more than 200 points. Dawes and Bochenski found the net in Friday’s 3-2 friendly win in Hungary and there are great expectations that their line can provide the firepower to improve on 2014’s near miss.
They’ll be seeking support from Roman Starchenko, the leading scorer in last season’s promotion campaign, and another hugely experienced Barys man, Vadim Krasnoslobodtsev. But there’s no place for Talgat Zhailauov; he hasn’t featured for Barys since early January due to an injury and won’t be in Nazarov’s squad here.
Andrei Nazarov began the season at SKA St. Petersburg, but his abrasive style ruffled feathers from day one with the defending Gagarin Cup holder and he left the club to return to Barys in October. Life in Kazakhstan wasn’t all that straightforward, though: Barys missed out on the playoffs for the first time in the KHL. But Nazarov has, for much of his coaching career, been an expert at getting strong results from limited resources – and that’s exactly what he’ll need to do to keep Kazakhstan in the top division.
The big task for Kazakhstan is to turn the near misses of 2014 into the victories that can keep it off the foot of the table. Defenceman Vyacheslav Tryasunov warned that this wouldn’t be an easy task. “We all know what lies ahead and we’re preparing for it,” he said in an interview on on the official website. “We’ve all come here ready to work hard and show what we can do.”
Realistically, Kazakhstan’s prospects will rest on its results against Latvia, Denmark and possibly Norway in a mini-league to settle the relegation issue. While the scoring power of the new North American recruits will help, the loss of Kevin Dallman from an already creaky defence will mean that once again Kazakhstan will face a tough battle if it is to end a run of 10 years since its last victory in a game at this level, a relegation round success over Slovenia in Riga in 2006.
Back to Overview