On Friday, the 12th of May, Astana was awarded the rights to host the 2018 Week of Hockey Stars. We at khl.ru took a look at what we might expect from this grand festival of hockey, and sought opinions from some experts – All-Star Game players Nigel Dawes and Ilya Nikulin, All-Star Game coach Ilya Vorobyov, and former All-Star Game host city Mayor Nils Usakovs – about the decision to stage the All-Star Game in the Kazakh capital.
The forthcoming 2017-18 Championship marks a significant milestone as the tenth season of the Kontinental Hockey League, and last Friday the League announced that the right to stage the grandest show of the KHL calendar, the All-Star Game, had been awarded to Astana, capital of Kazakhstan and home of HC Barys.
There have been nine previous All-Star Games and eight different cities, from Central Europe to Siberia and from the Baltic to the Black Sea, have staged the event: Moscow (twice), Minsk, Saint Petersburg, Riga, Chelyabinsk, Bratislava, Sochi, and Ufa. The format evolved from an All-Star Game to an All-Star weekend, and by 2017 it had expanded into the Week of Hockey Stars, featuring not just the greatest players in the KHL, but also the youngsters’ MHL (Junior Hockey League) Challenge Cup and the WHL (Women’s Hockey League) All-Star Game. And in 2018, the Week of Hockey Stars will be held in the capital of Kazakhstan.
Astana is a rapidly expanding city with a population which will soon hit the million mark, and as a modern, cosmopolitan metropolis it can hold its own against any in Europe or North America. Many of the city’s sights - the new administrative center, the Bayterek Tower, the Khazret Sultan Mosque (the second largest in Central Asia), or the Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center (designed by the famous architect, Norman Foster) – are simply breathtaking. In Astana, people of various religions and nationalities live happily side by side, and the city has already hosted many. major international events, including those from the world of sport.
HC Barys Astana was set up in 1999 and was a founder member of the Kontinental Hockey League. Indeed, until the arrival last season of Kunlun Red Star of Beijing, Barys was the sole KHL club to be based in an Asian country. Only once in the League’s nine-year history did Barys fail to reach the playoffs, and the Astana men have twice reached the Conference semi-finals. For most of these years, two North American imports have been leading the Astana team’s offense and winning hearts and minds throughout the League: USA-born Brandon Bochenski and Canada’s Nigel Dawes – both of whom are now Kazakhstan citizens – are the kind of forward whose dashing play has almost become the hallmark of the KHL, and which delights not just the Astana public, but even opposition fans who love and appreciate hockey in its finest form.
Finally, we must not neglect to mention Barys Astana’s home arena, which is to stage the 2018 Week of Hockey Stars. This new venue was opened in 2015, within walking distance of a football stadium and velodrome, and has been equipped with all the latest technology. The ice palace can seat up to 12,000 spectators, for whom every comfort awaits: an ultra-modern video cube, soft seats with heating, numerous power points, wares from the club store, and stands built as close as possible to the ice.
We can say without fear of contradiction that the new Astana stadium (it has already acquired the unofficial title of Barys-Arena) meets all the strict standards for international hockey – two ice rinks, seven comfortable locker rooms, and much more – and fully earns the “state-of-the-art” label.
Another very important factor is the promotion of hockey throughout the country, which no doubt will receive a huge boost from Astana’s staging of the Week of Hockey Stars. And the legendary Kazakh hospitality means that all visitors to the capital can look forward to being welcomed as if they were part of the family.
We sought the opinions of a few experts about the choice of Astana as the host city for the 2018 KHL All-Star Game.
Barys forward Nigel Dawes, mentioned above, and the first foreign import to break into the all-time top 100 snipers in all Russian championships, said:
“I am very glad the KHL chose Astana as the venue for next year’s Week of Hockey Stars. The city deserves the honor and so do the supporters, as they are among the best hockey fans in the entire League. It will be a great opportunity for people from different countries to come and visit the beautiful city of Astana and to experience the incredible positive emotions in our new ice palace. There are not many arenas as good as the one built in the Kazakhstan capital, and I hope that once again I will be chosen to participate in this wonderful festival of hockey.”
Ilya Vorobyov, head coach of Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and Kharlamov Division head coach at the 2017 Week of Hockey Stars:
“Astana as the host city is a very interesting choice. This year, Metallurg faced Barys in the playoffs and it turned out to be a highly captivating series. As for our impressions of the city and the stadium, they are only positive. It is a beautiful arena, modern, and very comfortable. In short: a wise choice of venue for one of the season’s main events.
I was lucky enough to take part in the All-Star Games in Moscow and in Ufa, and everything was very well organized. Both were great celebrations for the fans, and indeed, for all of us. I think Astana will be just as good, and maybe even better in some ways. In Ufa, we saw a strong emphasis on the local culture, particularly that of the region, and I think the organizers of the Week of Hockey Stars in Astana will also come up with something in this vein. That would be exciting and very interesting, because sport – especially hockey – brings together peoples of different faiths and cultures.”
Ilya Nikulin, Dynamo Moscow defenseman and veteran of six KHL All-Star Games:
“I was really pleased when I heard that Astana had won the right to stage the All-Star Game. The packed schedule in the Championship means we usually only see these cities from the windows of the team bus, but even then it is impossible not to notice how beautiful and modern a city is Astana. This, plus their superb stadium, means they have the two main ingredients needed for a memorable festival. Kazakhstan is a Republic whose people love their hockey and are keen to attend the games. Astana is sure to try to create something unexpected for the fans and guests - I’ve no doubt there will be surprises. Each year, the All-Star Game introduces something novel and innovative, and the 2018 event will be no exception. Perhaps the surprises will have some connection with Kazakhstan culture, but in any case, I'm sure it will be interesting. Astana has all that’s needed to stage the best All-Star Game of all, and if I am selected, it will be a pleasure to take part in it.”
Nils Usakovs, Mayor of Riga, host city of the 2012 KHL All–Star Game:
“It was in 2012 that the KHL All–Star Game took place in Riga, and we at the Riga city council were involved in organizing the event. The festivities went far beyond the stadium and even stretched to the city center, where we had a giant clock that displayed a countdown until the start of the event. It was an important and memorable occasion for a hockey city like Riga, and the Latvian fans still remember the All–Star Game. I would like to wish the best of luck to Astana and Barys. I am sure that Kazakhstan will host the most brilliant All–Star Game ever!”
KHL.ru would like to thank the HC Barys press service for providing us with photographs and for their valuable assistance in preparing this material.