| Lada Tolyatti|
(ХК «Лада» Тольятти)
|Founded||1976 (as Torpedo Togliatti)|
|Home Arena||Volgar Sports Palace|
|City||Tolyatti, Samara Oblast, Russia|
|Colors||Blue, white, red|
|Head Coach||Sergey Svetlov|
- Russian Championships won: 2 (1994, 1996)
- European Cups won: 1 (1996)
- Continental Cups won: 1 (2006)
Lada was founded on July 1976 as Torpedo Togliatti. Roughly a month later, Torpedo played its first game, a friendly against Dizel Penza. The game resulted in a 3-3 tie - a promising result for the club. Torpedo began in the Vtoraya Liga (then known as the Klass A Group 2) in 1976-77. In this league, then the equivalent of the third and last level of the Soviet hockey scheme, the team achieved a secure mid-table finish in the Zapadnaya Zona (Western Zone), finishing seventh out of fourteen teams with 25 wins in 52 games. Torpedo quickly improved. Already next season, the team finished third of the Western Zone, just two points shy of Kristall Elektrostal and the promotion zone. In 1979, Torpedo finally crowned its rapid ascension to the top by finishing first of the Western Zone, therefore earning a promotion to the Klass A Group 1. Thus began a eleven years long stay in the second league of the country.
The last steps to the top
The team's face was transformed at the end of the 1980's. In 1988-89, Torpedo Togliatti was renamed Lada Togliatti. The name reflects the new team's sponsorship, with the car manufacturer Lada, which is based in Tolyatti. Lada finished second of the Pervaya Liga that season, a sign of things to come. In 1990, Lada hired Gennady Tsygurov, a former Traktor Chelyabinsk defenceman who turned to coaching following his playing days. In 1991, Lada earned its promotion to the Vysshaya Liga which was then the top level of Soviet hockey.
Lada's road to glory was then well under way. In 1992-93, Lada finishes first of the Eastern Conference and reaches the league's playoffs finals. The team was swept by Dynamo Moscow in three games, but Lada had nevertheless shown it was becoming an important club in Russia and that the domination of Moscow hockey was slowly but surely weakening. It also and especially earned its first ever Russian Championship award in the process.
The golden years
The team didn't stop its progression there, however. In 1993-94, Lada finished first overall of the league with 73 points, 5 better than second place Dynamo. Lada wasn't exactly a powerhouse in front of the opposition's goal, with 169 goals scored; six teams had done better. However, their defensive brigade was solid, allowing only 82 goals in the whole season, and allowing the team to finish the season with a +107 goal differential. Lada sailed through the playoffs first two rounds, slaughtering Metallurg Cherepovets in the first round and easily winning over Spartak Moscow. Lada defeated SKA Saint Petersburg in the semi-finals and reached the finals for a second straight year, this time again meeting Dynamo. By winning three games against two, Lada turned a page of the history book of Soviet/Russian hockey by becoming the first team outside of Moscow to clinch the league championship. This allowed head coach Tsygurov to get some revenge over the Moscow clubs, who have stripped him from some championship titles back in the days he coached Traktor. Traktor trained back then some of the finest young players of the country, but was continuously being stolen his best players by the Moscow clubs (especially CSKA, then eventually Dynamo), as politics allowed the Army club (CSKA) to draft the best players leaguewide. Two of Lada's players, Vladimir Tarasov and Vyacheslav Bezukladnikov, have been chosen to play for the Russian National Team at the 1994 Olympics. The Russians actually fared pretty badly in Lillehammer, and Igor Dmitriev was later quoted saying he should have picked more of the Lada players for the national squad.
The recent successes of Lada opened to them the doors to international club competitions. Lada was allowed to participate in the 1994 European Cup. The team managed to reach the Cup Finals, losing to the Finnish TPS Turku.
Lada continued being a powerhouse in 1994-95. Tolyatti finished first in the Russian Superleague with an outrageous domination: out of 52 regular season games, Lada won 41 and tied 4, only losing seven games. The club totally outmatched the opposition with 229 goals for, by opposition to a meager 83 goals against, good for a +146 differential. For a third straight year, Lada reached the playoffs finals; for a third straight time, it was Dynamo Moscow that they had to face. Unlike the previous season, Lada lost, 3 games to two, to the Moscow side.
The mighty Lada enjoyed another fine season in 1995-96. After humble beginnings in the league's first round, finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference, Lada woke up in the final pool, finishing first with 21 wins in 26 games. Lada eliminated Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod and Severstal Cherepovets in the playoffs before being ousted in three games by Metallurg Magnitogorsk, the new rising power of the league. Lada also did well at the 1995 Spengler Cup, with a second place finish, after the Canadian National Team.
The 1996-97 season saw Tolyatti win his first international championship, as the team won its first European Cup title as they defeated MODO Hockey 4-3 in overtime in Düsseldorf, Germany. It was the first time a Russian side won the competition since CSKA Moscow's hegemony in the 1970's and 1980's. League-wise, Lada was equally succesful. It was crowned Russian regular season champion again, with a 30 wins and 63 points effort, imbellished by another lopsided goal differential (+83). The team reached the league finals once again, this time facing Torpedo Yaroslavl, third overall in the regular season. Despite good play by Tolyatti, Yaroslavl swept Lada in three games in the league finals.
Tolyatti offered another strong showing in 1997-98 RSL season, finishing fourth overall in the league. Andrey Tarasenko finished as the league's top scorer with 19 goals and 41 assists. Lada met rivals Dynamo Moscow again in the playoffs, this time in the quarterfinals. Dynamo won in three games and eliminated the Samara Oblast squad. The next season, Lada finished sixth overall in the league, and history repeated itself in the playoffs, as Dynamo advanced to the next round in the quarterfinals by triumphing over Lada. In 1999-00, Lada dropped three more ranks in the final league standings. Long time head coach Gennady Tsygurov paid for the club's poor season beginning by being replaced around November 1999 by Valery Postnikov. And to make matters worse, Lada once again lost in the quarterfinals... to Dynamo.
The turn of the millenium saw Lada continue to be one of the strongest teams of the league. In 2000-01, Lada improved it's standings with a fifth place finish. The playoffs had a bitter taste for the team however, as the team is eliminated in the quarterfinals by Avangard Omsk, who was coached by none other than Gennady Tsygurov, whom Lada had fired the previous season. The quarterfinals had been an unbreakable barrier for Lada in the recent few years, and that trend didn't cease the following year, with Metallurg Magnitogorsk eliminating Lada in the quarterfinals in 2001-02, despite the arrival of a new head coach, Piotr Vorobiev.
Vorobiev led Tolyatti to the semi-finals in 2002-03, where Lokomotiv Yaroslavl promptly disposed of them. Lada however earned the league's bronze medal, after winning twice by the score of 4-1 over Avangard Omsk. Lada improved their standings again in 2003-04 with a second place overall. Avangard had their revenge in the playoffs by eliminating Lada in the semi-finals. Lada finished third in the playoffs with a second consecutive bronze medal win.
Lada achieved another second place overall finish during the 2004-05 RSL season. Viktor Kozlov, who joined Tolyatti in favor of the 2004-05 NHL lock-out, finished first in the league for the compilation of the most games three-stars nomination; his teammate, the young sensation Alexander Semin, finished 9th in that same ranking. Lada enjoyed a fine playoffs run, reaching the league's finals for the first time since 1997. Once again, it was Dynamo Moscow that stood in their way there, and Lada lost in three bitterly fought games, the last requiring shootouts to decide a winner. Aleksandr Buturlin finished fourth best playoffs scorer with nine points in ten games.
The 2005-06 RSL season turned out to be difficult for Lada's wallet. Financial difficulties plagued the team, and in November 2005, 16 players decided to leave the team, including major contributors such as Sergei Sevastyanov, Oleg Belkin, Alexander Boikov and Alexander Semin. With so many players gone, the team was forced to bring in players from the reserve team. But despite all those troubles, Tolyatti still managed to achieve a safe mid-table finish (9th place). The team qualified for the playoffs and even managed to reach the quarterfinals, where they loss at the hands of Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Even more impressive, Lada also managed to with the 2006 IIHF Continental Cup, having had the better on its final pool-mates, Alba Volan, HK Riga 2000 and ZSC Lions.
In May 2006, Anatoly Emelin signed as a new Lada head coach, replacing Vorobiev. But the financial troubles, despite Lada's win in the Continental Cup, had changed the team's face. 2006-07 was another average season, with a 11th place finish and a quick first round playoffs exit handed by CSKA Moscow. 2007-08 was no better, complete with another early exit in the first round, this time to Yaroslavl.
Kontinental Hockey League
Lada was one of the 24 charter teams of the newly created Kontinental Hockey League in 2008-09. The season saw Piotr Vorobiev come back behind Lada's bench after several seasons of absence. His return was a blessing for the team, as Auto-VAZ, the team's sponsor, announced a drastic 50% cut of its funding of local sports clubs (including of course Lada Tolyatti) due to the Financial Crisis that hit hard the car industry. Even though the paychecks came three months late, Vorobiev successfully held the team together and qualified it for the playoffs with a 13th place. If the offense was nowhere near that the club had at its disposition in its glory days in the 1990's, the defence, however, was much improved and its goal against total was among the league's lowest. Goaltender Vitali Koshechkin enjoyed a fine season in his hometown and finished third overall in the league for the save percentage. He was instrumental in Lada's playoffs qualification and was a key instrument in making the eighth-of-finals series with CSKA Moscow a tight one.
The new Lada Arena saga continued. Despite its bright past, Lada was still stuck in the small Volgar Sports Palace, which, at 2,900 places, was clearly too small for KHL standards. Following investigations by the league, the Samara Oblast government promised the arena would be finished in 2010.
Financial hardships carried on into the 2009-10 KHL season, which was a disaster for Lada. For the first time in a very long time, the club failed to reach the playoffs, finishing 22nd overall in the league. It was announced that the current state of finances for the team was unacceptable, and that the team would be removed from the KHL starting in 2010-11 for an undetermined period of time, until the team's finances improved. That means a relegation to the Vysshaya Liga, very much like what had happened to Khimik Voskresensk the previous season. An Ukrainian team, HC Budivelnyk, is seriously regarded as Lada's replacement in the league. Meanwhile, the league decided to give free agent status to 15 Lada players, a situation decried by some people, including Piotr Vorobiev, who had left the team in February.