Category: KHL (page 1 of 3)

From a goon show to the big show – Vityaz reborn

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By Andy Potts – KHL.ru

For many, the big story in the Western Conference this season hasn’t revolved around the battle at the top of the table between CSKA and SKA. Instead it’s been the journey of Vityaz, perennial strugglers, into the playoff places.

Vityaz, one of the founders of the KHL, had never made it into post-season before. In recent seasons, it had got relatively close, remaining in contention until the new year before fading in the final stages. But for many hockey fans, the team’s biggest claim to fame – or notoriety – was its part in a bench-clearing brawl that forced the abandonment of a game against Avangard after setting a new record for PIMs. A cavalcade of hard-hitting players – ‘enforcers’, if you’re thinking positively; ‘goons’ if you’re less enamored of hockey fights – passed through the Moscow Region, and their antics often overshadowed the role that the club played in the development of young players such as Artemy Panarin, now a major player in the NHL and at international level.

So, what made this season a success for Vityaz?

The most change was the arrival of new head coach Valery Belov. A long-time colleague of Zinetula Bilyaletdinov at Ak Bars, there’s little in Russian hockey that Belov hasn’t seen or done – and that includes play-off hockey at Vityaz in the Superleague era. Bringing him back to a club where he has a deep connection, and giving him the freedom to work as head coach in his own right, was a key step.

Belov’s presence had a positive effect on the players he inherited, and none more so than Maxim Afinogenov. Now 37, the forward suddenly hit top form, completing the regular season with 47 (20+27) points, his best ever return since leaving the NHL and joining SKA in 2010. Remaining injury-free, and with his legendary pace seemingly undimmed by the passing years, Afinogenov’s 23-year-old team-mate Miro Aaltonen described him as “a great example for the whole team” in an interview on KHL.ru earlier in the season.

Aaltonen’s arrival was another masterstroke. No relation to the more famous Juhamatti Aaltonen, once of Metallurg Magnitogorsk and Jokerit, and best – if not most fondly remembered – for helping Finland defeat Russia in the quarter-final in Sochi, Miro arrived from Karpat and established himself as an effective center for Vityaz’s first line, scoring 44 points along the way. The club’s oft-overlooked ability to identity and nurture emerging talent delivered once again.

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The other key summer signing was very different. Alexei Kopeikin, 33, came from Sibir, where he had captained the team as it improved steadily to become a serious contender in the Eastern Conference. Deemed surplus to requirements in Novosibirsk, he was released … and set about proving his doubters wrong by scoring 20 goals in a season for the first time in his career on his way to a 51-point haul.

Then there was the goaltending. Harri Sateri, in his second season at the club, once again showed his qualities while understudy Igor Saprykin was suddenly thrust into the spotlight as the season came to a close. An injury to Sateri handed Saprykin the starting role from January 7 until February 16, and the 25-year-old rose to the challenge impressively. Vityaz won eight of the 11 games that Sateri missed; Saprykin finished the season with numbers comparable to his colleague.

As Vityaz heads into the unchartered territory of KHL playoff action, it faces SKA as a massive outsider. But head coach Belov insists that his team can cause an upset.
“Every player needs to bring his A game,” Belov said after Saturday’s game against Admiral. “If we do that, we will win games … and more than one.”

West Conference

1-CSKA v 8-Jokerit
2-SKA v 7-Vityaz
3-Dynamo v 6-Torpedo
4-Lokomotiv v 5-Minsk

Enter the Dragon – Kunlun brings playoff hockey to China!

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By Andy Potts – KHL.ru

This year’s Eastern Conference playoffs will make history – for the KHL, for our newest team and for the world’s most populous nation. Kunlun Red Star, KHL newcomer, marked its first season in action by achieving a playoff place and will bring a piece of the big show to China for the first time ever.

It’s a remarkable success for a club that, this time last year, existed as little more than a business plan. For head coach Vladimir Yurzinov, the first challenge was to assemble a competitive roster in a matter of weeks during pre-season. Then there was the difficulty of juggling a huge travel itinerary in a league where Red Star’s closest rival was Admiral Vladivostok, 1,300km distant. And, if that wasn’t enough, the team needed to build a fanbase in a country where hockey is far from the public eye: a task made even harder by the need to relocate from its Beijing base to a second arena in Shanghai for most of the fall.

We ended up with a close-knit group that wants to play and win for each other.

But the team delivered on all fronts. A multi-national roster brought together players from Russia, Finland, Sweden, North America, Slovakia and France, plus a seasoning of Chinese prospects. That was enough to secure eighth place in the Eastern Conference to set up a playoff series against defending champion Metallurg Magnitogorsk while steadily building up a fanbase in Beijing and beyond.

For Alexei Ponikarovsky, one of the most experienced men on the roster, one of the key elements in the team’s success was the atmosphere in the locker room. Despite a team being flung together from scratch, he felt that the players quickly gelled.

“Like any successful team, it’s about that combination of having some pretty good players and having a good atmosphere in the locker room,” he said. “We’re a friendly team. Even though we have players from all over the world and everyone speaks different languages, we all understand English, so we ended up with a close-knit group that wants to play and win for each other.”

Ponikarovsky, who was part of SKA’s Gagarin Cup-winning team of 2015, brought bags of KHL know-how. But it was a KHL rookie, Chad Rau, who led the scoring charts for the team with 40 (20+20) points. He credits his individual success to a strong supporting cast.

“I’ve been able to play with good players,” said the 29-year-old American forward. “There’s a lot of depth on our team and I’ve been lucky to play on a line with some good guys. The team as a whole has been strong too, and once we started winning games that helped us a lot.”

Now attention turns to post-season, and despite a daunting assignment against a powerful Metallurg team, but nobody in the club is content to merely make up the numbers in the playoffs.

Now we have a big chance to prove that we are a great hockey club, for now and for the future

Goalie Tomi Karhunen, another KHL newcomer, has enjoyed confounding pre-season expectations and is eager for more of the same.

“Before we started there weren’t many people who expected much from us, but now we have a big chance to prove that we are a great hockey club, for now and for the future,” said the 27-year-old. “It’s been good so far, but I’m hoping that our best moments are still to come.”

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Heading into next week’s series, Kunlun faces some new problems. The team finished the regular season on a three-game losing streak and might have missed out altogether had it not been for Sibir conceding a late equalizer in its final game on Saturday. To make matters worse, French forward Damien Fleury picked up a serious injury at Dynamo Moscow and will not feature again in the current campaign. Head coach Yurzinov admitted that the end of the season – and especially the disruption caused by the international break earlier this month – was far from ideal but felt that his team had played well in the circumstances.

And despite that losing streak, he is preparing to give the defending champion a run for its money. “We have to be ready to face a tough opponent,” he said after Saturday’s 1-2 loss at Dynamo. “But I think we have everything in place to put up a real fight against Magnitogorsk.”

Kunlun’s debut playoff campaign begins in Magnitogorsk on Wednesday. Beijing’s first taste of playoff action follows in game three of the best-of-seven series on February 26.

East Conference Playoffs

1-Magnitka v 8-Kunlun
2-Avangard v 7-Admiral
3-Ak Bars v 6-Salavat Yulaev
4-Traktor v 5-Barys

“The Organizers surpassed all expectations”The 2017 Week of Hockey Stars

By KHL.ru

30,000 spectators, 122 players, 165 volunteers, 7,000 prizes, a ton-and-a-half of props, instant consignment of photographs and much more. KHL.ru presents a statistical overview of the biggest hockey festival of the year – the Week of Hockey Stars in Ufa.

The 2017 Week of Hockey Stars in Ufa enjoyed its grand finale last weekend and it will go down in history for being the first event to encompass matches featuring the finest players from three leagues – the Kontinental Hockey League, the Women’s Hockey League (WHL) and the Youth Hockey League (YHL). Every fan who witnessed the event, be they one of the thousands who travelled to the Bashkir capital and watched from the stands or one of the multitudes who followed the drama from a distance, will cherish their own unique and priceless memories of the Week of Hockey Stars. To measure the depth of the impressions made on all the fans is a task that would defeat the finest minds, but a look at some selected facts and figures can be highly illuminating as well as fascinating.

Sporting contest

Starting with the action on and around the ice, the YHL Challenge Cup, WHL All-Star Game and KHL All-Star Game boasted a combined total of 122 players, 14 coaches (including the four popular TV commentators who worked as guest coaches) and 12 referees. Obviously, when judging the quality of the contests themselves, we must look further than merely at the number of talented and famous names. We must consider the sporting element, particularly the competitiveness of the matches. All the games were highly intense battles, and three of them – the YHL Challenge Cup, the first KHL All-Star Game semi-final and the big final itself – finished with a winning margin of just a solitary goal. Moreover, the Challenge Cup was such a hard-fought affair that it had to be decided in the shootout. The first Women’s Hockey League All-Star Game in Russian history will linger long in the memory, not least because the West kept the opposition off the scoreboard with an emphatic 4-0 triumph over the women from the East.

As for the Master Show, not only did it thrill the fans, but it also gave us a new record in the first event of the evening, the Fastest Skater The previous best lap time was 13.178 seconds, posted by Wojtek Wolski back in 2015, and this was eclipsed in the first outing by Torpedo forward Alexei Potapov, who clocked. 12.952 seconds, but his achievement was soon surpassed by three more players: Francis Pare (Medvescak), Ivan Telegin (CSKA) and the quickest of them all Enver Lisin of Salavat Yulaev, who completed a circuit in only 12,450 seconds.

The spectators

On four of the days in the Week of Hockey Stars there was a near full-house at the Ufa Arena. A total audience of over 30,000 fans came to watch the tricks and stunts from the likes of Vladimir Tkachyov (Ak Bars), Andrei Altiparmakyan (SKA-Silver Lions), Alevtina Shtaryovaya (Tornado), and many other masters of the game.

In addition, every fan had the chance to test his mettle as a hockey player in the leisure and entertainment facilities at the arena and the surrounding Fan Zone – comprising a total area of over 2,000 square meters and boasting more than 30 different games and competitions. Those who visited the Coca-Cola stand could try their luck in a simulation of one of the contests from the Master Show, the Hockey Biathlon. In all, around 7,000 people went home from the event as the proud owner of one or more of the memorable prizes offered by partners of the KHL and the Week of Hockey Stars.

And in addition to pretending to be one of the stars, the fans also got the chance to meet them by attending the popular autograph sessions, featuring Danis Zaripov (Metallurg Magnitogorsk) and Kirill Kaprizov (Salavat Yulaev) plus many of the juniors, to whom around 500 people flocked. The female stars went further, and ventured out to meet the public. Ekaterina Zakharova, Yulia Sadykova and Natalia Vorontsova surprised the fans by visiting 5 hockey shooting ranges in the Fan Zone to give the supporters a master class. On one day alone, the Sunday of the KHL All-Star Game, the fans fired off more than 7,000 shots at the target. One third of the visitors were women, and one in five of the ladies won a prize for hitting 3 out of 5 targets. The visitors ranged in age from 3 to 65 years, although on one occasion an eighteen-month-old toddler grabbed a hockey stick and joined in the fun.

Still and moving pictures

Among the battalions of TV production crews working on the broadcasts one could find the finest creative minds and the similarly impressive technical arsenal of the national sports channel, Match TV. Around 100 professionals worked with meticulous care to capture, record, and broadcast images from more than 25 television cameras, including 4 ultra-slow-motion cameras, a sliding “spider-camera,” and cameras worn by the players or embedded in the arena’s ice.

Viewers were given that special “part of the action” feeling thanks to the latest virtual graphics, and the event also heralded the debut in Russian hockey of a webcast in 360º format, which on YouTube alone attracted approximately 40,000 people. One of the undisputed highlights of the Master Show – the shootout attempt by Vladimir Tkachyov – has set its sights on breaking records for views, having already reached the 430,000 mark.

The size of the audience and the activity of fans on social networks (comments, likes, retweets, etc.) during the Week of Hockey Stars was 50% higher than for the regular season. This was doubtless helped by the KHL Photoagency breaking new ground by using instant transfer of captured images to the League’s server, from where the photos could be downloaded and uploaded to the social networks by LIVE system, thereby providing fans with the latest and most relevant “hot” content. And the sharp drop in the time needed for edited pictures to appear on the KHL Photoblog allowed all the online followers to use the pictures on various information resources.

 

 

 

The official website of the KHL also provided a LIVE text broadcast of the Master Show and the All-Star Game, which included many exclusive details from the arena, including ones the fans could not see from the stands, plus TV broadcasts from the locker rooms, from the spaces under the stands, or from the team benches. The content included photos, videos, comments from participating players, as well as live broadcasts via Periscope: an interview with Sergei Mozyakin (11,000 views), joint analysis from Oleg Znarok and Sergei Gimayev of their opponents (6,000 views), and more. As it stands, every LIVE-stream broadcast attracted around 20,000 views.

Organizational round-up

A large-scale sporting event such as the Week of Hockey Stars would be impossible to organize without the joint efforts of a great many people, most of whom remained behind the scenes and therefore out of sight, but still made an invaluable contribution to the preparations and staging of the entire series of events. With great dedication and passion, 165 volunteers gave their time and effort and were much appreciated, while the media contingent numbered around 100 professionals, all devoted to helping the game reach a wider audience.

For the various ceremonies held in Ufa it was necessary to bring in 1.5 tons of props and about 14 kilometers of network cable, which is enough to run the entire length of Prospekt Salavat Yulaev, the city’s famous avenue, and back again. In preparation for the event, the Ufa Arena had to be fitted with a new media-cube, a new sound system and new stage lights, and is now the first arena to provide free Wi-Fi for spectators. This might become the event’s most significant legacy for the stadium and the fans who will use it in the future. The amount of data transmitted via the spectators’ Wi-Fi network reached 160Gb.

The organizers made a tremendous effort to ensure that none of the supporters who came to the Republic of Bashkortostan for the Week of Hockey Stars would go home empty-handed. For example, KHL licensee Panini gave out 800 free albums and 500 free stickers from their new KHL Season 2016-17 collection. The fans also had the chance to buy from a vast array of licensed products, which are now being worn or displayed by thousands of hockey fans in numerous cities and countries all around the world.

KHL President Dmitry Chernyshenko said of the event:

“The Week of Hockey Stars in Ufa surpassed all expectations in terms of the standard of organization and the level of audience interest. Together with the city authorities and the regional government, we have done all we can to ensure that tens of thousands of spectators and millions of TV viewers got a taste of big-time hockey. I would like to give special thanks to our partners, who made such an invaluable contribution to the creation of the festive hockey atmosphere, and to all the volunteers for their help, enthusiasm and dedication. Together we made a great team and we will always cherish the memory of this stellar week in Ufa.”

 

KHL All-Star jerseys are ridiculously cool, created by Bauer

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By Greg Wyshynski – Yahoo Sports

The “color rush” jersey has become a thing in the NFL, where vibrant hues pop through your HDTV screens and either make you feel like you’re watching a rainbow or looking at the aftermath of your dog eating a box of crayons.

But bold colors are a trend in sports, and the KHL is on that trend for its 2017 All-Star Game and “Week of Hockey Stars” in Ufa.

Check out these duds, designed by North American equipment giant Bauer, for the events beginning on Jan. 15.

The biggest shows of the season from all three leagues – the KHL, YHL and WHL – are all to be staged during the Week of Hockey Stars in Ufa, running from the 15th to the 22nd of January, 2017, and the elite players who take part will be kitted out in gloves, leggings and helmets sporting a unique color scheme specially created for the event by Bauer. 

This special consignment for participants of the 2017 Week of Hockey Stars signals a new step in diversifying the look of Russian hockey. A refusal to adhere to the tradition of mixing only the darker hues allows the designers to experiment with new colors: lush greens, bright blues and sparkling gold. It will be the first time in Russia that the players in an event as big as the All-Star Game will be clad in gloves and pads designed to harmonize with the team jerseys.

Another result of this partnership will be an auction, devised by the Inter-Kommerts company together with the KHL and held after the close of the Week of Hockey Stars, at which many of the coveted items of equipment will be sold to the highest bidder, with the proceeds going to a very good cause – a charity providing sports equipment for a children’s sledge hockey league.

Bauer found that 87 percent of KHL players are using their skates, and 55 percent are using their sticks.

Congrats to the KHL on some sweet jerseys, even if the California Golden Seals alumni association might ask for residuals.

And congrats to Bauer on this new involvement with the KHL. Here’s hoping they were paid up front.

KHL Announces 2017 All-Star Game Rosters

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By Alessandro Seren Rosso The Hockey Writers

The KHL recently announced the 2017 All-Star Game rosters through the event’s official website. The All-Star Game will be different from previous editions. Events will be spread out starting from Jan. 15 with the MHL All-Star Game and will be held in Ufa, home of the 2013 World Junior Championships when the United States won the gold medal against Team Sweden.

The top four juniors from the MHL game will then skate in the KHL All-Star Game, which will be held on Jan. 22. Other events include the “Masters Show” (skills competition) on Jan. 21 and the first-ever Russian Women’s Hockey League All-Star game on Jan. 19.

For the KHL game, the players will be split into four divisional teams, each made up of one goalie, three defensemen, and six forwards. As mentioned, the teams will receive one player each from the MHL game.

The player with the most fan votes was Sergei Mozyakin, with more than 5,800. The most represented teams are CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, with four players each.

KHL All-Star Game Rosters

Bobrov Division

Goalie: Igor Shestyorkin (NYR); Defensemen: Matthew Gilroy, Chay Genoway, Vyacheslav Voynov; Forwards: Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, Matt Ellison, Ryan Stoa, Jonathan Cheechoo, Francis Pare.

Tarasov Division

Goalie: Ilya Sorokin (NYI); Defensemen: Mat Robinson, Igor Ozhiganov, Oscar Fantenberg; Forwards: Valeri Nichushkin (DAL), Brandon Kozun, Ivan Telegin (WPG), Maxim Afinogenov, Dmitri Kagarlitsky, Vladimir Galuzin.

Kharlamov Division

Goalie: Pavel Francouz; Defensemen: Chris Lee, Kirill Koltsov; Forwards: Sergei Mozyakin, Vladimir Tkachyov, Anatoli Golyshev (NYI), Dan Sexton, Nikita Filatov, Danis Zaripov, Jakub Kovar.

Chernyshev Division

Goalie: Igor Bobkov; Defensemen: Evgeny Medvedev, Zakhar Arzamastsev, Jan Kolar; Forwards: Linus Omark, Maxim Shalunov (CHI), Vladimir Sobotka (STL), Kirill Kaprizov (MIN), Nigel Dawes, Chad Rau.

It is expected that this year’s event will be as entertaining as the other ones, especially with the new format that should make the games a bit meaningful for players too.

Probably the best KHL All-Star Game was the very first one, held at the Red Square in Moscow between Team Yashin and Team Jagr, but other events were well-attended too and this year’s event promises to have great attendance as well, as the Ufa-Arena crowd is one of the most passionate in Russia.

There are a good number of NHL prospects featured in the game. The New York Islanders will have two players, as Sorokin and Golyshev made the rosters. Golyshev was called to the game thanks to the fans’ votes.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk star Mozyakin is at his ninth All-Star Game as he skated in every single All-Star event since the league was born. The only other player to do the same is Montreal Canadiens forward Alexander Radulov (although he missed the 14-15 game due to an injury), who will obviously miss this year’s even as he is now skating in the National Hockey League.

You can find more information about the events, including rosters for the MHL and Women’s League All-Star Games, on the event’s official website.

The challenge of building an audience for China’s first pro hockey team

Kunlun Red Star's Rudi Ying, left, and Alexei Ponikarovsky sit on the bench during the Kontinental Hockey League match between Spartak and Kunlun Red Star, in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016. (Pavel Golovkin/The Associated Press)

By Nathan VanderKlippe – Globe and Mail

Liu Wendong does not care that the arena is mostly empty. He doesn’t care that he has come to cheer a team that shouldn’t even be here. He doesn’t care that this is not so much a sport as the plaything of billionaires or that the Chinese managers of the first Kontinental Hockey League team in China know almost nothing about the game – save that it supplies the kind of brutish spectacle that might, some day, appeal to a local audience.

All Liu wants is to make enough noise to propel his team onward.

“Kunlun!” the announcer at the Shanghai arena chants. “Red Star!” screams back the twentysomething Liu, a speed skater who now coaches hockey, waving the only flag on display in the stands.

“I’m their No. 1 fan!” he says with a smile.

When Presidents Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia attended the signing ceremony for Kunlun Red Star in June, they heralded a new era of professional hockey in China, one that promised to transform the world’s most populous nation into the game’s biggest fan base.

Since then, the team has had surprising success on the ice, but a stream of indignities off the ice.

Unable to find suitable ice time in its home city of Beijing, Red Star has played all but one of its home games in Shanghai. Neither its cheerleaders nor many of the media who cover it have ever watched a game before. Management has struggled with the basics of equipping its players, who have gone so short on sticks that they have been forced to traipse around cities such as St. Petersburg during away games to buy their own.

Currency confusion means many players are getting paid in yuan rather than U.S. dollars, leaving bank accounts filled with a controlled currency they don’t know how to get out of China. And the team’s biggest appearance on the international stage was the embarrassing spectacle in September of a local man tossing the puck onto the ice with a frightened fling that The Hockey News dubbed “the most awkward ceremonial puck drop ever.”

The team has plumbed new depths for empty seats in the KHL and is losing money badly on the $40-million (U.S.) it costs to run a season.

It’s not clear anyone really cares – at least not for now. The team is hockey’s moon mission: an expensive attempt to do something no one else has accomplished.

The Kunlun Red Star hockey club was born of a deal struck between Chinese oil and gas investor Billy Ngok Yan-yu and Gennady Timchenko, the Russian energy-trading billionaire who chairs the board of the KHL in addition to owning its top team, SKA Saint Petersburg.

Yu wanted to do business with Timchenko, says Ying Da, a Chinese director and actor whose son Rudi plays for Red Star. The Russian oligarch said, “Fine. But I want you to set up a hockey club there in China.”

Yu “at the time didn’t know what hockey was. But he said, ‘Yes, definitely,’” says Ying, who watches games from a VIP area with the team’s top management.

For his part, Timchenko brought not only hockey knowledge but political connections of the highest order. He is one of Putin’s confidants, and the Russian President in turn has a budding autocrat’s camaraderie with the Chinese President. So two of the world’s most powerful leaders witnessed the signing ceremony “for a team that has 1,000 people watch it if they’re lucky,” says Mark Simon, a well-connected Canadian who coaches hockey in Beijing.

At a recent game in Shanghai, Red Star reported about 800 ticket sales. The stands looked well short of that figure. The team had given away a large number of tickets, and some fans had pockets filled with unused passes.

No matter. The Chinese are playing the long game. Beijing will host the Winter Olympics in 2022, and the country’s leaders want as many medals as they can get. Red Star has skated several Chinese players alongside the Swedes, Finns, Russians and Canadians on its roster. Maybe, says team chief executive officer Emma Liao, the Chinese men can even make the top 12 at the Games.

“With our help, the entire culture of the hockey industry can be very different,” she says.

How many of the management team can skate? “Not many,” says Liao, who previously worked in private equity, managing international mergers and acquisitions. “The entire team, including myself, is from an investment finance background.”

But they want to “charm” China with hockey, she says, launching into an MBA-style explanation of how the team provides an entertainment product for a rising Chinese middle class with time on its hands and an appetite for something new and Western – without the complicated rules of, say, American football.

“It’s a high-contact sport, which is liked by Chinese audiences as well. And it’s easier to understand,” Liao says. Look at the $4-billion (U.S.) offer by a Chinese group for Ultimate Fighting Championship. “Chinese audiences like intense sports,” she says.

Take one boy at a recent game: “Hit them 30 times! Kick them 30 times!” he yelled from behind the bench in Chinese. Elsewhere, 10-year-old Zhang Zi’an pointed to his favourite player, Slovak winger Tomas Marcinko. “He has such a bad temper! And he loves hitting other people!”

If skating and stickhandling won’t bring the crowds, maybe violence will.

Of course, they could come for the winning. Red Star has a .500 record and has spent most of the season in a playoff spot. Its players have shaken off 10-hour flights, six-hour time changes and the unfamiliarity of roast duck and chopsticks to play some remarkable hockey.

“Before coming over here, I’d never left North America in my life, so I’ve never been jet-lagged,” says Brett Bellemore, a defenceman from Windsor, Ont. “It took me quite some time to get used to being deprived of all this sleep. And all of a sudden it’s, ‘Hey, I’m exhausted, but I have to play.’”

“I think we’ve exceeded expectations so far,” says Saskatoon-born centre Sean Collins. “We’re setting the bar pretty high here, and hopefully we continue to build off the first half.”

Ying, meanwhile, is looking to solve the fan issue. He is calling his connections in the entertainment business, asking friends in the media to cover games and get scores on the radio. He has also convened an unusual brain trust, which includes Simon, to come up with solutions.

Ticketing has been a “mess,” Simon says. The game-day experience is “horrible.” At a recent game, food and beverages were sold from a small table that included three Snickers bars and three plastic cups of caramel popcorn.

“It can work,” Simon says. “It just has to be better.”

There is reason for optimism. After its long sojourn in Shanghai, the team returned to Beijing on Dec. 12. The Chinese capital has far more hockey players and outdoor rinks in winter.

The Red Star management team, meanwhile, is already turning its attention to find someone who can cover the hockey team’s losses.

After all, they’re manufacturing a little slice of sporting glory for China. Why should they bear that cost alone?

“The government should provide relevant and fair subsidies for the relevant matters, and I think they will,” Liao says. Building hockey in China, after all, is partly a “government mission,” she adds. “We’re not just stupid people with money who bet on this thing for nothing.”

Young and Hungry: Yegor Korshkov, preparing in the KHL

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By Makayla Peacock Real Sport

Most children dream of meeting professional hockey players. Yegor Korshkov was the child of one. His father, Alexei Korshkov, played for multiple teams over the course of his 18-year career and finished with 264 points. The young Korshkov is on track to beating his father’s record in the next few seasons.

Born in a city of almost 1.5 million people can make it difficult to stand out. Yegor Korshkov had no problem doing just that on the ice. His career started in the Russian city of Novosibirsk, but he moved to Kazakhstan where his father was playing, beginning in 2004. In 2012, he entered the Lokomotiv division, which was struck by the tradgic plane crash only a year earlier. While playing for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, he has only recorded 33 points, but he’s only in his third season.

Korshkov’s nearly ready

He was overlooked in 2014 and 2015 at the entry draft, but he was finally picked up by Toronto in 2016, going in the second round, 31st overall. While I don’t think that he will have a debut like Auston Matthews, he will still be one to watch.

His confidence and control of the puck make him draft-worthy, but there are a lot of players who are good with the puck. He has the potential to be on a Cup winning team if the Leafs ever decide to trade him (kind of kidding), but he needs to make improvements on himself, the most important being his size. If he added a little more muscle, he would be a strong contender for any of the league’s best. Having said that, the NHL is more accepting of the smaller framed skater these days.

According to The Cannon, Korshkov is a perfect blend of what makes Russian players great.

“[Korshkov] has all of the attributes you would expect from a Russian prospect: solid skating, excellent puck skills and excellent awareness on the ice,” said Jeff Little.

He proved that he has what it takes to play against the best in the world when he left the World Junior Championships with eight points in seven games, which apparently led to several NHL teams approaching him, but he declined them because he wanted to increase his ice time with Yaroslavl and continue with the KHL, as his contract ends in 2018.

So what’s the verdict?

He’s there, but he’s not. I think that right now, his best bet is to stick with the KHL and become more consistent with his scoring. He has the experience and the skill set, but some more time in his own league will do him a world of good. For now, we will continue to follow his success in the KHL and hope that he is able to continue to do big things, come 2018. 

New York Rangers prospect Shestyorkin continues to shine in KHL

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By Justin Starr – Blue Line Station

New York Rangers goalie prospect Igor Shestyorkin continues to impress as the starting goalie for SKA (Saint Petersburg) in the Kontinental Hockey League. The 20-year-old is one of five goalie prospects in the Rangers system and is priming himself to make the move to New York in a due time.

Pundits have claimed that the Rangers window for a chance at the Stanley Cup is closing with Henrik Lundqvist aging. The same analysts claim life without Henrik Lundqvist in net and in his prime will return the New York Rangers to their dark years. Many of those people don’t know that the Rangers have been building up a strong group of goalie prospects. Igor Shestyorkin leads that group.

Shestyorkin is currently the starting goaltender for SKA (Saint Petersburg) in the Kontinental Hockey League. Shestyorkin earned the starting spot during the off-season this summer and he has not regretted it. Shestyorkin has played in 26 games this season, putting up a remarkable 20-2-1 record with 8 of those wins coming by shutout. Shestyorkin’s 1.51 GAA has him among the top three in the KHL

Of Shestyorkin’s shutouts, four of them came in consecutive games. Shestyorkin was minutes shy of breaking the KHL all-time shutout streak. The Rangers 4th round pick of the 2014 draft is having a career year and SKA (Saint Petersburg) made sure that he wasn’t going to be the one that got away.  Shestyorkin inked a three-year contract extension which will keep him in Russia until the 2018-2019 season.

Along with his 94.2 SV %, the 20-year-old Russian goaltender has also added two assists to his stat line this season. SKA (Saint Petersburg)’s next game is on Thursday, December 1st against HC Kunlun Red Star where Shestyorkin will look to improve on his already stellar season.

Regardless of whether Shestyorkin continues to improve on his incredible season, he is still only twenty-years-old and is still growing and maturing. He is playing among men in the KHL and the top KHL goalie in the month of October is more than holding his own.

There should be no worries for the Rangers organization in net, as New York may have found the heir to Henrik Lundqvist’s throne. Shestyorkin’s numbers in the KHL are unprecedented, and he still has plenty of time to improve.

Should Shestyorkin continue to develop positively, the Rangers may have found another gem in the middle-late rounds of the NHL Draft. Only time will tell what happens from here.

Potential KHLers start to snub home league because ‘the NHL is the NHL

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By Michael Traikos National Post

As far as reputations go, there is no debate.

Pavel Datsyuk is one of the best. A three-time Selke Trophy winner as the league’s top defensive forward, he also won two Stanley Cups and four Lady Byng Memorial Trophies and was a finalist for league MVP. Whenever he decides to hang up his skates, his place in the Hall of Fame is almost assured.

So when Datsyuk left the Detroit Red Wings to return to Russia last summer, the NHL lost one of its most respected players. But it was hardly a sign that the league was losing ground to the KHL.

If anything, Datsyuk’s departure was another example of the growing chasm between the leagues.

The KHL was not getting Datsyuk in his prime, but rather a 38-year-old who scored 16 goals and 49 points last season and was coming home for family reasons. On the flip side, two of the KHL’s top free agents — Alexander Radulov and Nikita Zaitsev — followed in the footsteps of 2016 Calder Trophy winner Artemi Panarin and were making the trip to North America.

For the NHL, it was more than a fair trade.

Radulov, who signed with the Montreal Canadiens, is in the top-30 in league scoring with 18 points in 20 games. And Zaitsev, who signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, is tied for third among rookie defencemen in ice time and is fourth in scoring with eight points in 21 games.

“It’s a really good league, but it’s the second league in the world,” Zaitsev said of the KHL. “The NHL is the NHL. It’s a really different league. I’ve got a dream to play here — that’s why I’m here.”

Zaitsev’s situation is not exactly unique. While the KHL was initially perceived as a talent-poaching threat to the NHL when it opened operations — according to QuantHockey.com, the number of Russians in the NHL dropped from an all-time high of 73 in 2000-01 to just 29 in 2012-13 — the cases of players leaving are becoming few and far between.

If anything, the reverse is happening. KHL teams are folding. Sponsorships are drying up. And because of a ruble that is now worth .65 cents on the U.S. dollar, players are no longer making the kind of money that they once were.

There is still the threat of players going back to the KHL. But often it involves bubble players, like Valeri Nichushkin, who retreated back to Russia after scoring 29 points in 79 games last season. If you are able to play in the NHL, chances are that you are in the league already — or will be once your contract ends.

Forty-one Russians were in the NHL last season, not including New York Rangers rookie Pavel Buchnevich, who has four goals and eight points in 10 games. And more appear to be on their way after the instant success of Panarin, Radulov and Zaitsev.

“Panarin’s success obviously helps,” said player agent Tom Lynn, who represents Panarin. “It helps lead the way, and everyone kind of rushes over to ride the wave of success. There clearly is a large uptick for guys in the 15-18 year range coming over. I’m getting two of these requests five years ago. Now, I’m getting one a month.”

According to the Canadian Hockey League, there were only 11 Russians selected in the 2011 import draft. That number grew to 22 players last year. At the same time, there were 17 Russians selected in each of the last two NHL Entry Drafts — an increase from the eight who were selected in 2013. But it’s the older players who have made the biggest impact.

For years, the NHL has mined the NCAA for affordable free agents who for one reason or another fell through the cracks and went undrafted. Brian Burke used to say it was like finding a wallet and discovering there was money inside. But in the last couple of years, Russia holds even more of a windfall.

“The established players know the league they’re playing in is crap, so they are going to the best league in the world. And the NHL needs cheaper players,” said a player agent who requested his name was not used. “Radulov might not be a cheap player (his $5.75-million cap hit is second among Montreal forwards), but for what he delivers every night, he is a cheap player. Zaitsev and Panarin are entry-level players.

“More and more teams are sending scouts out to Russia to watch the KHL. There are many more out there that can play in the NHL and do well. They’re coming.”

Indeed, the Leafs have signed two free agents out of Russia in the last two years and selected five Russians, including Yegor Korshkov (31st overall), in the last two drafts. Still, general manager Lou Lamoriello did not agree that the KHL is becoming a feeder league for the NHL.

“The danger out there is thinking that maybe this is a trend, but you’ve got to be careful. There isn’t a mass exodus from Russia,” said Lamoriello. “We’re getting two or three players this year, but it’s not something that we’re going to see every year.

“Not every player works out.”

Maybe not. But from Panarin and Radulov to Zaitsev and Buchnevich, the KHL is losing more top-end players than they are gaining. And the NHL is better for it.

China Wants to Be the Next Hockey Heavyweight

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By Vice Sports

There is no Chinese word for “puck.” In fact, the most literal translation for “bingqiu”—Chinese for hockey—is “ice ball.” The Chinese are about as familiar with hockey as Wayne Gretzky is with badminton.

Yet off the West 4th Ring of Beijing on Sept. 5, 2016, the Kunlun Red Star were taking the ice for their home debut at LeSports Center. The Red Star are the newest franchise of the Russian-based KHL, thought to be the second-best league in the world after the NHL. In other words, what were they doing here?

All the signs that this is a major sporting event were evident: Throbbing light show. A red carpet. Pledging allegiance to a jumbotron.

There were also PA announcers who jumped from Chinese, Russian, to occasionally, English. Screaming red and yellow—surprise!—Kunlun jerseys. Pregame hullabaloo capped off with remarks from Xi Jinping, China’s president.

China wants to flex again, as it did during the 2008 Summer Olympics. This time, the country is training to be a hockey heavyweight. Like Russia, the United States, or Canada. Really.

China has the capital. And right now, it has the motivation: In just six short years, all eyes will once again be on Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

China, as host country, will have a chance to field squads for both the men’s and women’s ice hockey tournaments. In arguably the Games’ most prestigious event, the hunger to be able to stand toe-to-toe with the best in the world is naturally greater. Not that far behind, also, is the specter of the “sick man of Asia”, which has dogged the Middle Kingdom’s last century.

But how can China transform its IIHF 37th-ranked men’s national team, which plays literally three rungs below the elite, into a unit with even a puncher’s chance in 2022?

If anybody can help China up the ladder quickly, it might be Russia. After all, it was the Soviets who, less than a decade after seriously taking up the sport, knocked Canada off 7-2 to win the 1954 World Championships, ushering in over three decades of international ice hockey domination.

At Kunlun, both the general manager and head coach are Russians. Their first “pupils” are four Chinese skaters and one goalie on the Red Star roster. Between Tianxiang Xia, Guanhua Wang, and Shengrong Xia, they’ve seen about four minutes of ice time a game through 31 regular-season contests. Game-ready, they’re not.

“You’re almost taking two or three steps up coming from where they played to this league,” observed ex-Washington Capital Sean Collins, who’s enjoying his first season in the KHL.

Even the head of that class, Rudi Ying and Zach Yuen, have averaged just three and 12 minutes, respectively, of ice time per game. They’re among the squad’s least-used regulars.

“They didn’t see the kind of hockey we have in the KHL and NHL,” explained GM Vladimir Krechin. “When they play against good hockey, they’re going to grow up.”

For now, that means more practice than game time.

Kunlun team media officer Oleg Vinokurov cautioned, however, that the Chinese wouldn’t be subjected to Soviet-style training, “We understand that the Soviet hockey school, Soviet principles, will not work completely today.

“We have a coach who worked a long time in Finland. So he combines Soviet and European schools.”

That would be Vladimir Yurzinov, Jr., son of the Soviet hockey great, who stressed, “The Chinese players have to transform from just liking hockey to professional hockey.

“For the immature player, hockey is enjoyment. For the professional, it’s real work. It’s a job.”

So for the 18-year-old Ying, who skated in a mid-level Canadian junior league last year, he’s gone from the playground to the coal mine. He gets it, though.

“Just skill isn’t enough. You have to compete.”

Ying believes most of the gap between the Chinese and the best of the world is mental. “The lack of skill is not the problem—the problem is in the way they see the game, the way they play the game, the way the game comes to them.” He thinks his brethren approach hockey as a skill sport, and not a contact one.

Guess what’s not going to work for a hockey lifer like Krechin? “When they start to play and have more experience and they have more contact, they’ll see the contact won’t kill them,” predicted the former Philadelphia Flyers draft pick. “If they’re not going to play contact, they’re not going to play.”

Clashing Russian and Chinese hockey ideals may have resulted in the recent dismissal of assistant coach Guofeng Wu. While nobody will speak on the record about what happened to the former national team member, hired by the Red Star to work with the club’s Chinese skaters, it’s clear that Wu wasn’t up to the Russian standard.

Vancouver-born Yuen knows something about that high standard. The former Winnipeg Jets draft pick has appeared in the AHL, essentially the NHL’s Triple-A level. He also once played with Edmonton Oliers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the first-overall pick of the 2011 NHL draft. He put it succinctly when asked what the Chinese could learn from the Russians, “I think everything.”

Both Ying and Yuen, difficult as it is to project the 2022 Chinese Olympic team this far out, look like sure things. One is Kunlun’s youngest player, the other’s career was floundering in North America. In principle, they’re going to be the trailblazing graduates of China’s first contact with high-level hockey.

But frankly, six years isn’t enough time, even if more North Americans like Yuen represent Team China.

Krechin expects it will take at least 10-15 years for China to reach even top-15 IIHF status, with the likes of competitive, but far from intimidating national teams like Austria and Germany.

But as Krechin reminds us, “they do everything fast.”

Ten to fifteen years will certainly be too long to catch the 2022 wave. But as we speak, there is a hockey mini-boom in China.

There are over 400 full-sized rinks scheduled to be built by 2020. These surfaces will help house the rapidly-growing number of children from affluent families getting into the sport. In 2008, there were around 300 hockey players at the elementary level, a number that has climbed to roughly 3,000 today, according to Longmou Li, last year’s general manager of China’s Under-18 national team.

“I heard that in some districts every kid is going to [be required to] learn skiing or skating,” revealed IOC member Yang Yang.

That’s a far cry from 2005, when Chris Collins landed in China. “[Hockey] suffered a terrible vacuum,” observed the former San Jose Sharks color commentator. “In a country of 1.4 billion people, having a 1,000 or less play a sport, it’s not really a sport.”

Collins was laying the groundwork for San Jose’s pioneering investment in Chinese professional hockey, the China Sharks. They competed in the relatively low-level Asia League Ice Hockey for two seasons, from 2007-09.

“Maybe three rinks in Beijing [back then], and now there’s what, 15?” he recalled. “In Shanghai, there was one rink. I think it was a mall rink.”

There were 200 kids registered to play hockey in Shanghai three years ago, according to Yang, but that number has at least tripled now.

Some of these kids will fit right into the hockey academy that the Red Star are opening. China has also enlisted the aid of the Czech Republic. “In this way, we used to teach Russians in the 1950s. You know the outcome,” Czech Olympic Committee President Jiri Kejval told Mladá fronta Dnes.

The NHL has taken notice once again, too. Last summer, three NHL teams (the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, and New York Islanders) held youth hockey camps in China. This year, the Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, and Montreal Canadiens joined the fray.

The league also hired former King Kevin Westgarth as vice president of business development and international affairs, specifically to grow the sport overseas. He told The Hockey News, “Last year, we had our first Chinese player drafted into the NHL in Andong Song. That will hopefully be a little bit of a catalyst in igniting some passion.

“Especially with the Winter Olympics coming along, it’s an investment. I think that would be in the league’s best interests and I think it would be in their best interests, as well.”

For the last three seasons, state channel CCTV has broadcasted NHL games. According to Li, who is also the station’s director of hockey programming, regular-season ratings have increased 150 percent over that time span, from about 400,000 to 1 million. For Game 4 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, about 6 million viewers tuned in; in the United States, 5.407 million viewers was the series high.

While the viewership numbers represent only a fraction of the country’s 1.3 billion population, those mushrooming numbers will help President Xi live up to his promise.

When Beijing was still campaigning for the 2022 Games, Xi asserted, “It will inspire over 300 million Chinese to participate in winter sports if we win.”

That’s a lofty figure for a nation which has traditionally emphasized summer sports over winter. China didn’t even win its first Winter Olympics gold until 2002, courtesy of Yang Yang, and its highest medal count in the Winter Games is just 11—set in Vancouver in 2010. Meanwhile, China pocketed 100 alone in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

Of course, I doubt anybody is really tracking Xi’s “300 million.” But there’s also no doubt that the Chinese men’s ice hockey program has the full support of the state.

Case in point: Both Xi and Vladimir Putin were on hand to witness the official signing of Kunlun into the KHL last June. When was the first time Barack Obama and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau attended a hockey-related event together?

And while Xi and Putin were just a little preoccupied during the Red Star’s home opener with the G20 summit, the presence of both was felt during the pregame ceremony.

“Every road started from the first small step,” declared Russia’s deputy prime minister Arkady Dvorkovich, perhaps referencing Xi’s One Belt, One Road engagement policy. “This is a starting point for a whole new development model to grow Chinese hockey.”

Following Dvorkovich, Xi issued this statement through director of sports Liu Peng: “Ice hockey exchanges between the two countries will help China raise the standard of the game and better prepare for the 2022 Winter Olympics.”

Speaking of preparation, or a lack of, it was a minor miracle the Kunlun Red Star’s first home game was played at all.

While the KHL’s expansion into China was announced last December, it wasn’t made official until late June. Kunlun’s first practice, held weeks later, consisted of only five skaters. They weren’t even sure where they were playing their home debut until about a week before the game, as LeSports Center had already scheduled a concert for Sept. 5. Rumours were rampant that the Red Star would be forced to premiere in Shanghai.

As for the game itself, official attendance was 7,832 for an arena which seats 14,000 for hockey. To their credit, it was an enthusiastic mob. Just a couple minutes in, speedy Kunlun winger Oleg Yashin rushed the puck through the neutral zone, backing off the Admiral Vladivostok defenders, creating a surge in the crowd… and he dumped it in, which was exactly the right thing to do because the Red Star were on the penalty kill. They’re still picking up the beats of the sport here.

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Shortly thereafter, ex-New Jersey Devils blueliner Anssi Salmela rang up the Red Star’s first-ever home goal. A goal is a goal in any language, and the crowd roared.

Cries of “jiayou,” which literally means “fill up with gas,” punctuated the action. Behind me, a vociferous fan shrilled “Motherfucker” with bloodcurdling zeal and, most importantly, did it at the appropriate time. He really had me at “Icing!” though, which he shouted at his friend, Fisher Yu, who wore a “Kiss Me I’m Irish & I Play Hockey” T-shirt. As it turns out, Zhong Cong Wu and Yu were among Beijing’s earliest recreational ice hockey players.

Not even halfway in, Kunlun had raced out to a 5-1 lead. If anything, the Red Star were actually spoiling their supporters.

The stands had already emptied out when Salmela potted another goal in the final frame. The tepid applause indicated that they were pretty tired of this whole scoring thing.

My attention was wandering, too, and I saw what seemed like a mirage at first: It was a little girl wearing a Sidney Crosby jersey in Beijing. Her father, Song Dai, proudly declared that Demi was one of about 20 girls who play hockey in the capital. They had been in Canada for a youth tournament during the Stanley Cup Final, which explains the Crosby love.

After Kunlun’s 6-3 triumph, former Maple Leafs forward Alexei Ponikarovsky echoed a popular postgame sentiment, “I hope as we win more games, more people will show up.”

But clearly, there was something in the air here. There is a small but passionate hockey fan base. More kids than ever are playing the game. That said, it’s a leap of faith. China, the KHL, and the Red Star are hoping, “if you build it, they will come.”

“You can see the air is a little bit different here,” joked Kunlun captain Janne Jalasvaara. Of course, he was talking about something else.

But what’s also different about China? It can afford an expensive leap of faith. It can afford money-losing crowds. For a nation not famous for it, though, it’s hard to say if China will have the necessary patience.

The infrastructure which China is investing in can foster a world-class national team, but it probably won’t happen soon. After 2022, will the government still care? Or will the dream of a Chinese hockey power be forgotten, just another deserted Olympic edifice?

“Government money is big right now. But after 2022, it may not be as much,” admitted Li. “China needs a self-sustaining hockey system, so government money doesn’t matter.”

Yang concurred. “In China, the sports system has been changing. Before, it was more government funding which drives the sport. In the future, from my point of view, it’s going to be more market-driven.”

The two-time gold medalist is a believer, though. “After 2022, the sport can grow by itself. Hockey has the potential.

“It’s popular with the kids.”

But not popular enough, at least not yet. After their Beijing opening, the Red Star migrated to Feiyang Skating Center in Shanghai for home games. LeSports Center, which was pre-booked, will welcome them back in mid-December.

Since the move, Kunlun has averaged just 1,103 over 14 appearances in Shanghai, amidst rumors that the KHL is looking to contract some teams.

A mere 721 witnessed history on Oct. 27 at Feiyang, when Yuen became the first Chinese player to score in KHL history, re-directing a Tomas Marcinko pass through Amur Khabarovsk goaltender Juha Metsola en route to a 1-0 triumph.

To score a goal like that, it’s not only something for me,” said Yuen, whose parents were born in China, “it means a lot more than that for Chinese hockey in the future.”

It’ll take more than the occasional goal to grow hockey in China, though. The kids could use a role model. In Yuen, Kunlun may have just unearthed one. After averaging under six minutes a game in his first 10 contests, his playing time has increased significantly, to about 15 minutes a game over his last 21. He hasn’t been a star, but being a regular on a playoff-calibre KHL team is certainly something to look up to.

The blueliner attributed much of his progress to the Russian and European-trained coaching staff, “They’ve really helped me adjust to the different of game,” he said. “In European hockey, there’s a lot less leeway with stickwork and holding and that kind of stuff [than North American hockey]. Defending is very different. Especially on such big ice.

“Our team has a lot of high-end skill players, few guys who have played in the NHL. Getting to practice and play with them has really got me ready.”

When you’re trying to pull off the seemingly impossible and compete with the world’s greatest hockey superpowers, every possible hope matters. For Team China, a Chinese hockey player’s rapid improvement because of the KHL is no small feat.

Or as Yuen himself offered, “Every country has to start somewhere.”

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