All-Star Game: Kovi’s hat-trick can’t beat the East13.01.2013
All-Star games, by tradition, are close fought affairs. Almost according to the script, they are ebb and flow affairs with each team building – and throwing away – big advantages in a crowd-pleasing roller-coaster of goal action. But if the template was laid down by Saturday’s Legends game, where Team Fetisov clawed back a three-goal deficit late on to tie 4-4 with Team Makarov’s local Chelyabinsk heroes, it was promptly ripped up by the Eastern Conference as the All-Star Game made a triumphant trip east for the first time.
The game was as one-sided as the 18-11 scoreline suggests, with the East threatening to deliver a margin more suited to a basketball game at times in this showpiece encounter. But even if there was little sporting intrigue this year, the game still produced many highlights: for Traktor fans, who packed out their Chelyabinsk arena, the sight of Evgeny Kuznetsov and Derron Quint sharing six of Team East’s goals was greatly satisfying, as was the impressive form of goaltender Michael Garnett during his spell between the piping. For followers of the locked-out NHL stars who have graced our league in recent months, it was a chance to bid a fond farewell – and perhaps dream of a swift return? – for Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, two men who opted to stay and play in the All-Star Game as a thank-you to the fans who have made this season the best-supported in the KHL’s history. Kovalchuk, as captain of the West, opened the scoring in Chelyabinsk and eventually signed off with a hat-trick – not to mention a memorable display of figure skating during the Master Show; Datsyuk couldn’t score in his final game, but produced another spectacular penalty shot in Saturday’s skills showcase.
Not that the KHL is left bereft of stars following the long-awaited return to action across the Atlantic. Players and fans alike have been left with a positive view of what the league – and European hockey as a whole – can offer, and the 2013 All-Star weekend wrapped up much of what is good about this competition. The spirit of friendly competition on both sides was evident throughout the weekend, and old-stagers like double Gagarin Cup winner Alexei Morozov (2+0) and KHL all-time leading pointscorer Sergei Mozyakin (1+1) were joined by relative newcomers such as Sibir’s flying Finn Jori Lehtera (1+5) in delighting those who have waited for the Eastern Conference to claim victory in the All-Star encounter. In the western camp, Vityaz forward Alexander Korolyuk celebrated his 37th birthday two days early, matching Kovi’s treble with one of his own.
But the player who put smiles on more faces than most was undoubtedly goalie Konstantin Barulin, of Ak Bars and the East. His impromptu contribution to Saturday’s Skills Show – a further outbreak of figure-skating skills to show the two team captains how to do it despite full padding – was followed up by an unlikely “goal” in the West’s unguarded net as the clock ran down on Sunday. Advancing up the ice, Barulin surged over halfway, evaded one (admittedly less than fully committed) challenge and slotted the puck home. Sadly, crossing the red line meant the officials had to chalk off the goal, but the crowd-pleasing gesture delighted the fans.
The expanded All-Star format, now stretching over the whole weekend, proved successful, as did the first trip to the Eastern portion of the KHL’s ever-expanding geographical reach. Bids to host next year’s event are already in, and the league management faces a tough choice between exploring further East, to Ufa or Omsk, or breaking new ground in Central Europe in Prague or Bratislava.
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