New club opens season
New club opens season
20th Continental Cup season starts in Sofia
The host team is the new Bulgarian champion Irbis-Skate, which will fight for a place in the second round with the top teams from Israel (HC Bat Yam), Serbia (Partizan Belgrade) and Turkey (Zeytinburnu Istanbul). The winner will advance to Group B, which will be staged 21-23 October in Jaca with the Spanish champion, Nottingham Panthers (GBR) and HK Liepaja (LAT) waiting.
There will be quite familiar faces in the Group A. Partizan prolonged its national titles streak to six and hosted the same stage a year ago. The opponents were from the same countries, but Israel was represented by the Rishon Devils and Bulgaria by CSKA Sofia. Zeytinburnu Istanbul was leading CSKA Sofia 5-3 in the last minute of the second period, but the “Reds” made an impressive comeback and won the battle for first place in the tournament 9-5. Stanislav Mukhachev, Alexei Yotov and Juraj Dusicka each had a goal and two assists in the game. They were the top scorers for CSKA in the event with 12, 9 and 8 points respectively. Unfortunately the team couldn’t make the trip to the Group C in Tychy (Poland), where it was replaced by Partizan.
The last season in Bulgarian hockey was marked by the wind of change and the triumphal debut of Irbis-Skate Sofia in the men’s championships. The newest local team became champion without losing a point and with a goal difference of 107-25. The run of three titles for CSKA Sofia was stopped when most of its players moved over to Irbis-Skate.
This weekend on the Irbis-Skate’s roster there will be five players (Slovaks Juraj Dusicka and Kristian Simo, Stanislav Mukhachev, Martin Boyadjiev and Bogdan Stefanov) and one goalkeeper (Nikola Nikolov), who participated for CSKA Sofia in the previous three editions of the Continental Cup. From the last season’s edition there will be nine coming back (in addition – Alexei Yotov, Slovak Ivan Malinjak and 18-year old goalie Dimitar Dimitrov).
Irbis-Skate was founded in August 2012 by the brothers Stanislav and Andrei Mukhachev, Martin Boyadjiev and others. Andrei Mukhachev is a two-time KHL Gagarin Cup champion with Ak Bars Kazan (2009-10) and was picked by the Nashville Predators in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Stanislav or Stas, as he is well known in Bulgarian hockey, came to the country 10 years ago and played for Slavia Sofia until 2012. He was granted Bulgarian citizenship and was a top player for the national team in IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship events and Olympic Qualifications from 2008 to 2014, scoring 40 goals (83 points) in 32 games.
“We founded the club in August 2012, but the whole process was delayed due to the formal documentation process so in reality Irbis-Skate became a member of the Bulgarian Ice Hockey Federation in February 2013. That way we missed the chance to apply for certain projects and to participate in the championships. In 2012/13 Irbis-Skate played only in cross-ice tournaments for kids. The first one was in December 2012 and we had to borrow a goalie from Slavia. In 2013/14 we played in the U12 and in 2014/15 in the U12 and U14 championships. The idea for the men’s team was brought up in October 2014 by our sponsor Ivelin Todorov, but we started with amateurs and veteran players and won the amateur league that season. So in 2015/16 was our debut in the men’s championships and there was no surprise that Irbis-Skate won the title after we were able to gather all experience players,” explains Stas Mukhachev, who is the chairman of the club.
Andrei Mukhachev played with his brother for CSKA Sofia in the Continental Cup (2013/14 and 2014/15) but won’t be with Irbis-Skate for its first International event. “He still wants to play in amateur leagues in Moscow and their regulations don’t allow participation in official IIHF competitions. On top of that Andrei has a knee injury and three games in three days are too much for him. His knee swells too much in the second game and he can’t play and needs at least a week of rehab. If we continue to grow for sure we will ask for his expertise as a coach, but so far we are not on such level. We’re simply on an amateur level,” continues Stas.
For the tournament in Sofia there won’t be many new players or foreigners and this will be the politics of the team, which started it’s training on 24th August. “The idea is to use the team that we have from last season with four, five additions. We don’t have the finances to go bigger at the moment. We have to use what we can and almost six weeks of training for amateurs is quite good preparation. Of course we are aiming for the first place, because we are at home, but at the same time we have to be realistic. Everyone will come for our first game on Friday straight from work. On top of that we know quite well what is expecting us in the next round – very tough games and unpleasant moments with teams that we’ll have difficulties going into their zone.”
Stas Mukhachev is stepping down from his status of playing head coach too. He will be replaced by Tzvetan Mihailov, a former national player and assistant coach at two IIHF World Championship events (2006-07).
“The team can count on me as a player and when I combine many roles – coordinator, manager, coach and player, I’m not so effective on the ice. I had a meeting with the team and we decided to bring another coach who can help us. In the future I want to see young players from our system in the men’s team. That’s my goal and I believe that we can stay on the top in Bulgarian hockey for at least four, five more years,” says Stas Mukhachev.
Group A of the 2016/2017 IIHF Continental Cup opens on Friday. Serbian champion will play HC Bat Yam from Israel at 16:00 and Irbis-Skate Sofia will take on Zeytinburnu Istanbul at 20:15.
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