Following official confirmation of the Beijing club, Kunlun Red Star, as the 29th member of the Kontinental Hockey League, the sporting media has understandably devoted considerable airtime and column inches to this exciting new development, and inevitably, a fair amount of speculation and rumor has featured in much of the coverage. On Tuesday, the 5th of July, Red Star sporting director Vladimir Krechin and head coach Vladimir Yurzinov, Jr. gave a press conference to bring the media up to date about the preparations for the season and to dispel some of the myth and rumor which has surrounded the Chinese club’s entry into the League.
This meant the assembled press were finally furnished with the names of some of the players who will don the Kunlun colors in the IX KHL Championship: Tomi Karhunen and Andrei Makarov, Janne Jalasvaara and Anssi Salmela, Tuukka Mäntyla and Igor Velichkin, Alexander Mikulovich and Damien Fleury, Martin Bakos, Tomas Marcinko and Oleg Yashin.
In addition, Mr. Yurzinov assured the gathering that Chinese hockey will be adequately represented, and thirteen players from the People’s Republic will travel to Finland for preseason training camp. However, the coach was reluctant to predict how many Chinese players will be in the roster for the start of the season, as their level is not the highest and the main task – that of developing and popularizing hockey in this vast nation - demands that the club attract a large contingent of top-level foreign professionals for these early chapters of the Red Star story.
Yurzinov denied that he had received offers of a second job, in which he would combine his duties at Red Star with coaching the Chinese national team in preparation for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. He cheerfully added that he had not even considered the possibility, but did not rule out taking such a role in the future if his term in Beijing turns out to be a successful one.
Then it was Mr. Krechin’s turn to issue a denial, as he stated that stories in several media of sensational signings of superstar players, including Ilya Kovalchuk, were without foundation:
“We haven’t even spoken to Ilya, and there is no truth in these rumors about us having tens of millions of dollars with which we could buy any player we want. No-one in China is going to spend outlandish sums, and our budget is comparable to those of other non-Russian clubs in the KHL. Incidentally, all the financing for the club is Chinese, with no Russian money involved, and they regard this funding as an investment, not a bottomless pit. In other words, they expect a return.”
The discussion turned to pre-season training and the journalists were given an outline of the planned schedule: Red Star will spend the latter part of July at camp in Finland, where the team will play friendly games against Mr Krechin’s former club, Traktor Chelyabinsk, plus Spartak Moscow and Amur Khabarovsk.
In early August, Red Star travels to Astana to compete in the President of Kazakhstan Cup, and will then head to Moscow. The team still has some empty pages in its diary for the days leading up to the start of the Championship, so the sporting director used the press conference to launch an appeal for potential sparring partners:
”Should anyone want to play some games against us on these days, from the 16th to the 19th of August in Moscow or Moscow Region, then we will be happy to oblige. We are waiting for invitations.”
We are confident that many fans and players are hoping their team accepts this challenge from the latest addition to the ranks of the KHL. The thrill of the new is hard to resist.
Welcome to our League, Kunlun Red Star!