The Week of Hockey Stars in Astana has reached a successful conclusion. The fans who were lucky enough to be in the elegant capital of Kazakhstan were treated to fantastic displays of skill, speed, courage and creativity from the best players in the Kontinental, Youth and Women's Hockey Leagues. To keep those fond memories of all that happened during the biggest show of the hockey season, khl.ru has put together a pictorial reminder of some of the brightest moments.
The festivities opened with the Women's Hockey League All-Star Game, only the second such event in the history of the WHL The women dazzled the crowd, and not just with their hockey skills - on the morning of the big game, Team West produced an impressive dance routine, broadcast from their locker room. Not to be outdone, Team East replied by demonstrating their dance-floor moves out on the ice. And in the intervals the girls competed in a mini-Master Show.
The match itself was a hard-fought, swashbuckling affair, with Team East racing to a 2-0 lead and Team West fighting back to draw level. However, the women from the East held their nerve and struck the decisive blow to seal a 3-2 victory.
Next onto the Astana ice stepped the finest young players from the YHL, here to contest the Challenge Cup. As expected, this was a no-holds-barred, uncompromising battle, and it finished in a 7-3 win for the Western Conference.
As with last year, four players who were judged the best in the Challenge Cup won the right to play in the KHL All-Star Game. This time the honor went to forwards Igor Geraskin (Almaz), Nikolai Kovalenko (Loko), German Voloshin (Amurskie Tigry) and Yegor Korobkin (Stalnye Lisy).
Thanks to the Gagarin Cup, the KHL and the cosmos are inseparably linked, as indeed are space travel and Kazakhstan. Therefore, the Final Frontier was the chosen theme of the All-Star Weekend, influencing not just the pre-match show and the players' presentations, but also the guest list – four cosmonauts attended the celebrations.
Perhaps the main innovation in this year's All-Star Game was to have women from the world of TV sport assigned to the four Division teams as assistant coaches. Well-known presenters Natalia Clark, Daria Mironova, Maria Bass and Sonia Gudim shared coaching duties with, respectively, Jukka Jalonen, Galym Mambetaliyev, Andrei Nazarov and Igor Nikitin.
The Fairer Sex made a further contribution to the All-Star Game weekend by serving as referees and lineswomen. Four officials from the Women's Hockey League were on duty at Saturday's Master Show.
As always, the Master Show produced many of the Week of Hockey Stars highlights, not least that provided by Pavel Padakin of the Tarasov Division. He donned a familiar costume of blue bodysuit, red cape, and big “S” on his chest, and finished his Fastest Skater lap with a Superman-style leap through the air, before explaining that he was, in fact, not Superman but “Sochi-man.
The Hockey Skills Relay, the Fastest Skater, the Shootout, a Hockey Biathlon... all tough trials of speed, skill and strength, but also, undoubtedly, tremendous fun, and the smiles never left the faces of the participants. After a three-way tie, an extra Fastest Skater contest brought Master Show victory to the Kharlamov Division.
SKA forward Nikita Gusev, the hero of more than 5,000,000 YouTube hits for his previous Shootout masterpiece, once again produced a stunning penalty shot, but, once again his work was not judged the best. "All these costumes, theatrical stuff... it's not for me,” – said the legendary forward. – "I just get the puck, grab the stick, and off I go.”
And the winner of the Shootout was a local hero, Barys forward Nigel Dawes. His scoring exploits had earned him a nickname coined earlier this season, the Hat-Trick King, so Nigel had his new title emblazoned across his back as he took to the ice in full royal garb, complete with cape and crown.
Even during the Master Show, a few of the KHL stars found time for non-playing activities. Avtomobilist and Russian international defenseman Nikita Tryamkin tried his hand at being a cameraman and then as a photojournalist. "Do we have a new Intern for our press office?" pondered the Yekaterinburg club on its official social media pages.
The All-Star Game festivities in Astana were not always centered on the players and coaches. The popular club mascots played with the Astana-2004 hockey team, visited children at a local school, appeared at the city's state-of-the-art EXPO-2017 complex, and even found time for a tug-of-war on the Barys Arena ice.
And then, of course, the main event: the All-Star Game. Or, to be precise, four games: two semi-finals, a third-place playoff, and the final. TV presenter Daria Mironova, in her new role as assistant coach of the Chernyshev Division, pleased the fans with her outfit and also exelled at her new job, as she led her team to the final and asilver medal.
There was no shortage of competitive spirit in the semi-finals, with both games requiring a shootout to determine the winner. Mr Nazarov and Ms Bass led their men to victory in the bronze playoff, while the biggest match in the biggest event in the biggest show of the hockey season was won by Team Tarasov, with a 5-4 victory over Team Chernyshev.
Throughout the Week of Hockey Stars, the lobby of the Barys Arena hosted many activities to entertain spectators as they arrived at the arena. Mastercard, a KHL Partner, as part of its Priceless Fan promotional campaign, staged a competition of video requests from supporters to players. The winner was a fan of Nigel Dawes, and during a break in the All-Star Game mini-tournament she collected her prize on the Barys Arena ice, accompanied by her favorite player.
And below is Sergei Mozyakin, pictured with a poster featuring.. himself. Earlier in the day, a khl.ru correspondent encountered a young lady, resplendent in a Metallurg Magnitogorsk fox costume. Explained that she had created this artwork and would like us to pass it on to the legendary forward. We accomplished our mission, of course, and Sergei was most impressed with his unexpected gift.
As always with the All-Star Games, it was a great day for absolutely everyone who took part, not just the winners. The moods are positive, the atmosphere is relaxed, and some even managed to get hold of souvenirs. We can confidently assume that all who left Astana also took away a great many pleasant memories with them.
The organizers did not forget that tireless army of volunteers, and it is largely thanks to their efforts that the Week of Hockey Stars in Astana was such a success. After all the players, staff and spectators were safely on their way home, the organizers and mascots stayed behind to publicly thank the volunter army, four of whom have been rewarded with a trip to the next All-Star Game.
The Week of Hockey Stars is now over, and all those who participated will forever have fond memories of the festivities. As they say in Show Business, “How do you follow that?” Well, on Tuesday the regular season resumes with some fierce battles for the remaining playoff places, then we have the Olympics, and after that, there is the little matter of the KHL's finest 16 teams competing for the Gagarin Cup.
Live and breathe hockey!