On Earth, the match-up between Jokerit and SKA made history in several ways – not least because it was the first KHL game to be played beneath the starry Nordic skies of Finland. And soon, the KHL will be up among those same stars as the Gagarin Cup goes to the International Space Station. ISS missions are usually launched from Kazakhstan, where the league’s All-Stars are heading in January – and you’ll never guess who was the most popular player in the fan poll. But not every star shines so brightly: Kunlun Red Star announced the departure of head coach Mike Keenan after a dismal run of form.
Saturday’s game between Jokerit and SKA broke new ground for the KHL. It was the first ever open air classic played in the league, and it drew a league record attendance of 17,685. The event, played in the Helsinki park where some of Finland’s earliest recorded hockey games took place, marked both this 10th anniversary KHL campaign and 50 years since the creation of the Jokerit club.
The game lived up to the billing, with the big crowd – almost all of them standing on specially-built terraces – witnessing a seven-goal thriller. SKA edged it 4-3, inspired by a three-point haul from Ilya Kovalchuk. His goal also made a bit of history, taking him to 150 for the Petersburg club and making him the all-time top scorer for SKA, moving ahead of Maxim Sushinsky. SKA also broke through the 100-point barrier in this game, getting there faster than any other team in KHL history.
Who’s the most popular player in the KHL? The answer might come as a surprise. According to the fan vote for January’s All-Star Game, Dinamo Minsk defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani is the league’s top dog. The Canadian blue-liner, now in his second season in Belarus, got 5,964 votes and will join Spartak’s Dmitry Kalinin on the Bobrov Division team in Astana next month. Impressively, Gragnani, 30, outscored Jokerit’s teenage sensation Eeli Tolvanen (5,819) and SKA’s record-breaker Ilya Kovalchuk (5,598). Team Bobrov also generated significantly more votes than the other three divisions.
The other players chosen were: Team Tarasov – Staffan Kronwall (Lokomotiv), Nikita Nesterov, Kirill Kaprizov (both CSKA), Dmitry Kagarlitsky (Severstal); Team Kharlamov – Andrei Markov, Vladimir Tkachyov (both Ak Bars), Chris Lee, Sergei Mozyakin (both Metallurg); Team Chernyshev – Kevin Dallman, Nigel Dawes (both Barys), Philip Larsen, Linus Omark (both Salavat Yulaev).
Want to see the Gagarin Cup? Look into the night sky! On December 17, a replica of the trophy is heading to the International Space Station in the care of cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin. The miniature cup, and an official KHL puck, will spend 72 days in orbit before returning in time for the opening game of the 2018 Gagarin Cup Final. The stunt, in partnership with Russian space agency Roscosmos, reaffirms the KHL’s determination to aim as high as possible – a mission embodied in the name of the league’s principle trophy – and represents another celebration of this 10th anniversary season of the competition.
Mike Keenan has stepped down as head coach at Kunlun Red Star after the Chinese team’s loss of form continued. The legendary coach was replaced as General Manager last week and stepped down as head coach before Sunday’s game at Amur. At that time, Red Star was on a nine-game losing streak and had picked up just two victories in 19 outings. That sequence saw the team drop to 11th in the Eastern Conference, at risk of becoming detached from the playoff contenders.
Bobby Carpenter took charge of the team for Sunday’s game and oversaw an overtime win. Keenan remains within the Red Star organization with a role in international coordination.
Sergei Shumakov’s game-winner for CSKA against Kunlun Red Star was just a little bit special. It takes some chutzpah to flick the puck onto your stick behind the net, then swing it round and stuff it in the smallest of gaps in the top corner. And that’s exactly how Shumakov did it, deceiving Magnus Hellberg in the visitor’s goal and setting up his team for a 3-1 victory.
A total of 19 KHL players were called up by Canada to play in the Channel 1 Cup in Moscow later this month. As in Finland last month, the Canadians are looking to use this guest appearance in the Euro Hockey Tour to test out options ahead of February’s Olympic Winter Games and, once again, there’s a strong KHL accent to the team. Even among those not currently playing in the league, Barry Brust, Stefan Elliott and Derek Roy have tasted KHL action in the past, with only three names in the party unfamiliar to our league’s fans.
The KHL contingent in Moscow includes: Ben Scrivens (Salavat Yulaev); Karl Stollery (Dinamo Riga), Charles Genoway (Lada), Chris Lee (Metallurg), Simon Despres (Slovan), Mat Robinson (CSKA); Wojtek Wolski, Taylor Beck, Gilbert Brule (Kunlun Red Star), Matthew Frattin, Linden Vey (Barys), Ryan Garbutt (Torpedo), Eric O’Dell (Sochi), Brandon Kozun, Max Talbot (Lokomotiv), Matt Ellison (Metallurg), Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau (Avtomobilist), Teddy Purcell (Avangard), Rob Klinkhammer (Ak Bars).
JHL Challenge Cup starting lineups for Team West and Team East are revealed. The game will take place in Astana, Kazakhstan on January 11th as part of the 2018 All-Star Week festivities.
Head-coaches of Team West and Team East, Mikhail Milyokhin and Dmitry Stulov, have made their choice for the starting lineups and goaltenders for the 9th JHL Challenge Cup that will be played at Barys-Arena.