Connecting the Leafs to the KHL Finals

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The Kontinental Hockey League is a magical place. The fans are fewer, but they’re louder. The players are often paid more than they’d make in North America, but as a whole, the teams spend less. Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov are still people that exist to be good at winning hockey games. And, most importantly, instead of the Stanley Cup, they play for the Gagarin Cup. This year, Metallurg Magnitogorsk is taking on Lev Praha, in a series that’s about to go to a 7th and deciding game on Wednesday.

I was bored, so I took a look at some of the connections these two teams have to the Leafs.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk

  • Possibly the most obvious of the bunch; this is the team that Nikolai Kulemin played for before jumping across the ocean and donning a blue and white sweater. He also went back during the 2012/13 lockout.
  • Metallurg’s best player is 33 year old Sergei Mozyakin, who has 32 points in 20 playoff games this year, and holds the KHL record for most career points. Fun fact: He played four games in the QMJHL in 98/99. One of his teammates? Former Simon Gamache, who played 11 games for the Leafs and was well liked by, like, a handful of people.
  • But forget about “played with a guy who played for the Leafs”, there’s an actual fomer Leaf on this team! Tim Brent scored 29 points in 51 games this year and is still around for the playoffs, putting up a goal and 27 penalty minutes in eighteen games.
  • Former Toronto Marlies forward Justin Hodgman was also the team at one point this year, but was traded mid-sesaon.
  • Colton Orr was once teammates with Denis Zaripov, having both played on the Swift Current Broncos. In this case in 1998/99. Though, to be fair, Orr played just two games that year. Also on that team? Former Marlies captain Ben Ondrus.
  • Franis Pare was never close to being a member of the Leafs organization, but he was on the Grand Rapids Griffins team that eliminated the Marlies en route to a Calder Cup last year.
  • Mike Keenan is their head coach. Hopefully he’s not a candidate to take the place of Randy Carlyle, but he was Dion Phaneuf’s coach in Calgary, along with new Presdient Brendan Shanahan’s in St. Louis. He also replaced former Leafs head coach Paul Maruice.

Lev Praha

  • Representing Lev in the “obscure former Leafs” department is recent 14 game wonder Ryan O’Byrne. He put up 9 points in 43 regular season games, and has a goal in addition to three assists in 21 playoff games.
  • Nathan Oystrick is one of their other North American cogs on defence. In 2010/11, he played nine games for the St. Louis Blues. One of his teammates? Jay McClement. The year before that? Randy Carlyle coached him for three games as a member of the Anaheim Ducks.
  • Not Leafs related, but Jiri Novotny was teammates with Nations Network writer Brian Sutherby in Columbus! Back to the topic at hand, though…
  • Niko Kapanen has played with a grocery list of former Leafs, to the point where you’d be surprised that he never wore the blue and white himself.
  • Marc-Andre Gragnani was teammates with Mason Raymond as a member of the Vancouver Canucks, and TJ Brennan with the Buffalo Sabres. 
  • Petr Vrana, who has been one of Lev’s best players in these playoffs, was a teammate of David Clarkson’s in 2008/09, along with the recently traded Mark Fraser.
  • Lastly, we come to Justin Azevedo. The Good Ontario Boy (TM) has never played for the Leafs, but was drafted by Tim Leiweke’s Los Angeles Kings. Okay, a sixth round pick, so maybe the CEO didn’t care very much. But his assistant coach when he played for the Kitchener Rangers was current Marlies head Steve Spott, and in his time there, played with Nazem Kadri and David Clarkson, along with Mark Fraser and Orlando (ECHL) forward Mike Duco, and was the star player for the Rangers in their 2007/08 run to the Memorial Cup Finals. While playing with the Manchester Monarchs, his teammates included Jonathan Bernier and Brandon Kozun. If he ever gets home sick, I wouldn’t be half surprised to see him show up on the Marlies roster down the line.