From IIHF News@1:266/404 to All on Tue Apr 3 05:41:16 2018
HC Donbass cemented its status as Ukraine's top team by clinching its third successive national championship.
A 4-1 victory over Kremenchuk in the final series rounded off a record-breaking
campaign for Sergi Viter's team. In regular-season play, Donbass amassed 116 points from 40 games to set a Ukrainian record. That was powered by a 37-game winning run, improving on the club's previous record of 27 straight wins. That put the team comfortably on top of the six-team table after it suffered just one loss all season.
As regular season champion, Donbass earned a bye to the semi-finals of the play-offs where it swept Dynamo Kharkhiv 3-0. Then, in the grand final, the team had little difficulty in seeing off Kremenchuk in five games to secure its
sixth national title.
The decisive game of the final series ended in a 3-0 win for Donbass on home ice. A power-play goal from Alexander Kostikov late in the first period set things in motion before Kostikov assisted on Alexander Vlad's goal midway through the game. Ilya Korenchuk wrapped it up with an empty net effort as the celebrations got going in earnest. Vitali Lyalka assisted on all three goals, taking his playoff tally to 19 (6+13) points from eight games and earning him the MVP award. During the regular season, the forward added another record to the list when he got a point in 19 consecutive games.
Korenchuk, the leading scorer for Donbass this season, paid tribute to his team
for its efforts. "We brought our best game and everyone was in good form," he told the HC Donbass website. "In the end, it wasn't too hard to close out the series - we kept playing our game and managed to win.
"But the series wasn't easy, despite that 4-1 scoreline. It was all down to the
character of this team. Now, it feels great. We finished the job and claimed first place."
Goalie Bogdan Dyachenko completed the season with yet another shutout but said that this season's victory was more difficult than in the past.
"Compared with last season I feel very tired," he said. "In the final matches it gets more difficult to work, to concentrate, because everything is at a decisive stage. Everyone has to push himself to the limit. But, as a result, the joy of winning is that much greater."
Despite the team's on-going success at home, club president Boris Kolesnikov admitted that there are challenges for the team in the Ukrainian Championship, especially if it wishes to repeat its 2013 triumph in the IIHF Continental Cup.
"We face a dilemma," he told the Ukrainian Hockey League website. "We need to attract players who can compete against other European teams, but the championship does not yet offer serious competition. We need at least four strong teams, but even in football Ukraine only has two so where can we find more in hockey?
"But there are promising signs. Dnepr Kherson announced it will compete next season and I know there is a huge amount of work underway to revive Sokil Kyiv."
Kolesnikov also alluded to the political problems surrounding the Donetsk club,
which has been unable to play at its home venue, the Druzhba Sports Palace, since the conflict in Eastern Ukraine that began in 2014. After thanking fans for travelling to its "exile" Druzhkivka, he added: "We dream of one day winning the Ukrainian Championship at the Druzhba, in a Ukrainian Donetsk."
The latest triumph for Donbass means that the team has won all six championship
finals it has contested in Ukraine, and has been national champion in each of the last six seasons it has played in the league. The team joined the KHL and played two seasons at that level before withdrawing in 2014 due to the war in eastern Ukraine. It returned to competitive action in 2015/16 in Druzhkivka in the Ukrainian-controlled part of the Donbass region.