Red carpets and stars of hockey, politics, and show business, with trophies and medals glittering under the glare of the spotlight, limelight, and flash photography, elegant ladies in eye-popping outfits, and last, but by no means least, more than two dozen awards for the greatest players and all the other heroes whose exploits made the jubilee season of the KHL Championship such a roaring success.
KHL.ru looks back on the Closing Ceremony of the tenth season of the KHL.
The foyer of the Barvikha Luxury Village hotel was adorned with images from previous Championships, including a picture of Alexei Morozov with the real-life version standing nearby, and when the illustrious guests were all seated, a giant screen showed them more reminders of the KHL's short-but-glorious history, before the curtain was raised and the gala evening officially got underway in the already traditional manner - with a welcoming speech from the Chairman of the League's Board of Directors, Gennady Timchenko.
”The most important thing I would like to say is that we believe a strong League means a strong national team, and in this – our tenth anniversary season, Russia won Olympic gold with a team of players drawn solely from the Kontinental Hockey League. We waited 26 years for this triumph, and when we welcome onto this stage the heroes of the 10th KHL season, some of them will be Olympic Champions. I would like to congratulate all the teams, coaches, players, veterans, our legions of fans and all who who love hockey. And I would like to thank them also. Happy anniversary! Live for hockey!”
Next onto the stage was the Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Olga Golodets.
“I would like to echo these congratulations,” – she said. “Ten years old is a significant age, and you have something of which you can be proud. We're a hockey-loving nation, and the game of hockey is entwined with our future. Today, thanks in no small part to the KHL, the sport is becoming more popular and more accessible. Already, 600,000 children go to hockey games, and each year the League produces new stars. The youngsters are looking up to them, and we have a great future.”
Then it was time to get down to business and present the prizes, beginning with the team awards: a trophy each for CSKA Moscow and Ak Bars Kazan for becoming champions of, respectively, the Western and Eastern Conference, and the Tikhonov Cup for the team which finished first in the overall regular championship standings, which this year was won emphatically by SKA Saint Petersburg.
Then followed the first surprise of the evening. It concerned a new individual award, the Sirius Prize, and is in recognition of a player's having joined a very exclusive club – a player who has captured not just one major title, but all of the big four – the Gagarin Cup, Stanley Cup, World Championships and Olympic Games – and the winner was the Magic Man himself, Pavel Datsyuk.
On receiving the prize from IIHF President Rene Fasel, the SKA forward graciously shared the credit: “Thank you all for this honor, which was completely unexpected... When I was little, I never even dreamed of winning prizes. I only wanted to play hockey. But these awards are won by all of us together – the players, coaches, fans…”
Next was a star of Russian film, theater, and television, Marat Basharov, who presented the Golden Stick award to another SKA forward and Russian Olympic hero, Nikita Gusev. It was the first of three awards for the young Petersburg player, which must have soothed some of the pain of his team's earlier-than-expected end to its title defense.
Then there was a reminder of those without whom the game could not exist – the fans. In partnership with the KHL, the MasterCard company devised the Priceless League competition, in which fans can win a chance to step out onto the ice with their chosen hockey hero. This season, there was an extra treat in store – the lucky winner would also share the spotlight with a hockey star at the KHL Closing Ceremony, and this year the dream became a reality for passionate hockey fan Svetlana Kolego, as she took to the stage with her favorite player, HC Sochi goaltender Konstantin Barulin.
“I can't put into words how I feel right now,” said a delighted Svetlana in a trembling voice. Barulin was the perfect gentleman, and came to the rescue with the required words, thanking Svetlana and the fans, and congratulating Ak Bars and the Russian national team on their stunning victories.
The legend that is Ilya Kovalchuk came on stage to receive his Top Scorer award, and he graciously offered words of congratulations to the winner of next award, the Coach of the Year, the man who guided Ak Bars to its third Gagarin Cup triumph (and was coach for all three), Zinetula Bilyaletdinov.
The Kazan boss has earned a reputation for being very sparing with his words, but on this particular night he was determined to show his gratitude to all those who made the historic achievement possible.
“Of course, this victory is not only down to me; it was earned by all of our guys, the hockey players who go out on the ice and do battle, risking injury, and often getting injured. Many thanks to them. It is they who sweat and toil to delight us, the coaches, and all those who come and support us... I would also like to thank the management at Ak Bars, not just for this year, but for the work they have done for many years...
We have had to work extremely hard, but now I am very happy for our team for capturing the gold medal. I congratulate them with all my heart. They did a great job for the country, the coaches, and the fans.”
As if planned to coincide with the Ak Bars boss's words, it was then time to recognise one of those heroes who risks injury to do what the fans want to see. Scoring goals. The prize for the Top Sniper was handed to Nigel Dawes by famous Russian singer Dmitry Malikov.
The awards and winners kept coming: for the Best Goaltender (Pavel Francouz of Traktor), the Best Linesman (Alexander Sadovnikov), Best Referee (Konstantin Olenin), For Services to Hockey (Pavel Datsyuk, again), and more…
By now, all the awards and prizes had been handed out, but there was one more event to go, and for this the hosts invited all the winners back to the stage.
Last year, the KHL dreamed up a wonderful surprise for the undisputed hero of that season, Magnitka marksman Sergei Mozyakin, by tracking down the record-breaking forward's childhood coach, Gennady Khaletsky, to the closing ceremony where he could present his former pupil with one of his many awards. And for the Super Six who received the Golden Helmet for being selected in the Team of the Season, the organizers resurrected last year's feature, to the delight of all the players and everyone in attendance.
Taking the stage were Gennady Kurdin (Nikita Gusev's first coach), Alexander Kovalevsky (Konstantin Barulin), Alexander Mikolenko (Bogdan Kiselevich), Sergei Demenshin (Nikita Tryamkin) and Igor Znarok (Vitaly Kravtsov).
These mentor-coaches took their rightful place among the heroes of the evening, and the tenth anniversary season of the KHL officially reached The End.