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Knight hoists first professional trophy with KHL's Omsk

Hockey: Okotoks Oilers alumnus plays key role in winning KHL’s Gagarin Cup
Okotokian Corban Knight lifts the KHL championship trophy after helping Avangard Omsk defeat CSKA Moscow in six games. (Photo courtesy Corban Knight)

A Kontinental experience proved its weight in gold for an Okotoks Oilers alumnus.

Corban Knight captured his first professional championship as Avangard Omsk claimed its first Gagarin Cup as Kontinental Hockey League champions to close out a dream 2020-21 campaign in Russia.

“It was special,” said Knight, in a Zoom call from his Okotoks home on May 10. “This is the first league championship I’ve actually ever won and that was a cool experience.

“Even just this year with what’s going on in the world, the NHL starting late, for us we pretty much had no issues over there. I definitely feel pretty fortunate to have played a full season, and to win the whole thing was the icing on the cake.”

Avangard Omsk downed CKSA Moscow in six games in the league final, to capture its first KHL championship.

Due to arena issues in Omsk, Avangard played its home games this season in Moscow. After the championship, the victors brought the trophy to its passionate supporters in the central Russian metropolis.

“They’re known for having the craziest, most loyal fans in Russia and we didn’t get to experience that playing in Moscow this year,” he said. “After we won it, the next day we flew out there (to Omsk) with the trophy. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as soon as we touched down it was absolutely incredible.

“They set up this festival type stage in the middle of a field and I think they said there was over 40 thousand people there, just going crazy.”

Omsk, led by former Flames bench boss Bob Hartley, featured a number of NHL veterans in Alexei Yemelin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Reid Boucher and Jiri Sekac, to name a few. Knight was the lone Canadian on the roster.

“It’s predominately a Russian team, it takes a little while to get used to that, when you go to the dressing room the music is Russian, the TV is Russian and everyone is talking in Russian,” he said. “For the most part, we had a great group of guys, a lot of them spoke really good English so that helped.

“We had guys like Kovalchuk and Yemelin who played in North America for so long, they were leaders on the team with their experience and being older guys.”

CSKA Moscow, the high profile team in Russia Knight compared to the Toronto Maple Leafs, entered the series as favourites.

That might have played to Avangard’s advantage.

“When we found we were going to play them it was almost like ‘oh boy, we got the big boys this year,’” Knight said. “We knew going in it was going to be a tough series. We got off to a really good start in Game 1 and put them on their heels a little bit.

“Going into the series we were heavily the underdog, people were talking about how we were going to get swept, or maybe win one game, it was pretty lopsided.”

The best-of-seven would prove to be a chess match.

Omsk closed out the series with a 1-0 suffocating performance in Game 6 on April 28.

“I was pretty nervous the whole day, especially because we were home and you do put a little extra pressure on yourself, winning it at home I think anyone would say it’s a lot more special,” he said. “We really didn’t want to go back to their rink for Game 7.

“The night before you definitely have that nervous, anxious feeling and in the back of your mind you’re thinking ‘we’ve got to get this done tonight.’”

The 30-year-old centre finished
fifth in playoff scoring with 16 points in 24 games. In the regular season, the Okotokian registered 40 points in 57 games, forming a strong partnership with Boucher, a sniper formerly with the Canucks organization.

“The role I was in this year is kind of what you dream of being in,” he said. “Bob knew me, we had that history, so right away he had faith in me and trust in me. Special teams, 5-on-5, he leaned on me a lot. 

“It was a really fun year for me, just getting back to playing a ton and in every role.”

Knight, the AJHL Rookie of the Year with Okotoks in 2009 and later a Hobey Baker finalist in 2013 at North Dakota, made his NHL debut with the Flames in March, 2014 with Hartley behind the bench.

“Last spring when I signed with (Omsk), they had recruited me and having that relationship with Bob from my time in Calgary was nice, he knew me as a person and player,” he said. “Going in right away I had that comfort level there and it was nice having an English coach over there.

“You look at his résumé and now he’s won everywhere, it’s pretty incredible.”

From 2013-19, Knight spent time mostly in the American Hockey League with the Calgary, Florida and Philadelphia organizations.

Knight played the 2019-20 season with Barys Nur-Sultan in Kazakhstan.

The move across the pond was borne out of a desire to find a bigger role on a team.

“It was just a point in my career where I had a couple pretty serious injuries over here and just playing in that role where when I was in the NHL, it’s that bottom-six role player and I just wasn’t in a healthy place,” he said. “I just figured I needed a little change of pace, get healthy and back to a role where you want to play in hockey.

“I’ve been able to play a full two seasons over there, I feel great, my body is getting back to where it was and definitely feel like I’m in a good place now.”

Remy Greer

About the Author: Remy Greer

Remy Greer is the assistant editor and sports reporter for and the Western Wheel newspaper. For story tips contact [email protected]
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