Tonight in Donetsk HC Donbass, one of three debutant clubs in the League this season, will at last host its first ever official home game in the KHL, and the city is welcoming the occasion of the premiere, as they say, with open arms.
Donetsk is decked out with billboards and banners sporting the emblems of the KHL and of the Arena Druzhba, the venue where Julius Supler’s men are to do battle with their first opponents at this level, and the complex looks stunning, both inside and out. The arena dates back to 1975, but this summer underwent its third major refit in only two years. In 2010 the stadium was modernized to host part of the U-20 World Championships, was updated further last year to mark the club’s entry into the lower league, the VHL, and now this third and extensive makeover has prepared the venue for the team’s debut in the Kontinental Hockey League. The capacity has remained at a modest 4,100, but the level of comfort for those spectators lucky enough to gain entry has improved remarkably.
In late August the men from the KHL committee, headed by Control and Procedure Director Vadim Skoropupov, conducted their strict inspection of the arena and were highly satisfied with what they saw. Over the summer, the builders had been laboring night and day, and one cannot fail to marvel at the huge volume of work achieved in just two months. For the city and the club, however, many stages of the reconstruction were as expensive as they were impressive.
According to HC Donbass club president Boris Kolesnikov, in 2011 the state shelled out the tidy sum of 47m hryven (a little under six million US dollars) on the Arena Druzhba, and this financing only covered the replacement of the ice equipment and utility systems. Later, another 55m went on renovating the hall and the food court, and then in 2012 a further 40m was spent on the press center and corporate boxes.
And all this time a parallel project has been in full swing in Donetsk to build a completely new ice palace for Donbass, one which should be finished and ready in two or three years’ time. This arena, when completed, will hold around 20,000 spectators, giving it the largest capacity of any in the KHL. Boris Kolesnikov, who combines his role as Donbass president with that of Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, enthusiastically discusses these plans with fans on the official club website’s forum, and even sends them regular updates on the new stadium via email.
After three games on the road, the team’s account shows one victory in Bratislava against defeats at the hands of CSKA and Lev Praha. Now Donbass can look forward to three straight home games: after tonight’s encounter with Sibir, Donbass will be welcoming Metallurg Novokuznetsk and then Amur to Ukraine.
The first ever home game in the KHL for Julius Supler’s team will be broadcast live on KHL-TV, while viewers across Ukraine who watch the game on the Hockey Channel will be treated to commentary from the man voted the best commentator of the KHL last season, Oleg Mosalyov.
Vladimir Samokhin in Donetsk, special to khl.ru