Phase two of the KHL World Games was another success. Coming to Zurich, a city with a notoriously hard-to-please hockey audience, the players of Dinamo Riga, SKA and CSKA put on a display of high-quality sport. Moreover, the event drew plaudits for the highly professional staging of the games and the technological advancement of the KHL’s presentation of the sport.
Then came the intangibles, the unique memories created as young fans in Zurich came face-to-face with a raft of decorated hockey stars. Small wonder there were three more countries eager for a taste of KHL action by the end of the trip.
For most observers of the games between Dinamo Riga and the Western Conference giants of SKA and CSKA, this was a rare glimpse of some of the finest players in the game. Many of Russia’s PyeongChang champions were on view, including Pavel Datsyuk, Nikita Gusev and Kirill Kaprizov, the key stars of the golden Olympic campaign. The big names did not disappoint; Gusev set up Datsyuk for SKA’s winning goal, Kaprizov produced the perfect execution of a power play move in CSKA’s victory.
Off the ice, the players also made a good impression. Gusev and Datsyuk were the stars of the post-game press conference in Zurich. If Russian players are often criticized for being a little guarded and dull in their after-match thoughts, these two were anything but. A crowd of local journalists was entertained by Gusev’s thoughts on the merits of Zurich’s cathedrals and Datsyuk’s tongue-in-cheek lament that hockey players graft like miners and get little time for sight-seeing trips around Switzerland.
Dinamo’s players also made a hit: between the games, the Latvian club staged a master class for local youth teams, with Mathew Maione among the players involved.
“It was really fun,” said the productive blue liner. “It’s always great to get out on the ice with the kids. The main advice I can give them is to work hard and enjoy their game, so that they can keep getting better as players.”
The first two KHL World Games experiment have taken the league to the heart of Europe. Austria and Switzerland are two countries with established hockey traditions dating back to the earliest days of the sport. But the mission to expand the market for Europe’s finest hockey league does not end on the slopes of the Alps – further games are under discussion in Germany, France and Britain, countries with a world-renowned culture of supporting top-level sport.
Proposals for exhibition games in the UK next year are already well advanced. Team GB has returned to the World Championship Elite Pool for the first time in 25 years and IHUK General Secretary Andy French spoke of his desire to see KHL teams come to Britain to provide the opposition in pre-tournament warm-up games. “We’ve found it difficult to get suitable opponents in our preparations,” he told KHL.ru. “The strongest countries are used to playing among themselves and its a big ask for us to get involved. So we are discussing the prospect of three KHL teams coming to us in April 2019 with one of the games earmarked for Sheffield.”
For France and Germany, co-hosts of the 2017 IIHF World Championship, the prospect of KHL action is also attractive. “Thanks to the French players in the KHL, especially Stephane da Costa, fans in France are following the league,” said French Hockey Federation President Luc Tardiff. “Our national team has played in the Elite Pool for 10 years and it’s time to take the next step. We’re working towards staging a KHL game in Paris in the near future. It’s time for people to see the KHL for themselves.”
His counterpart in Germany, Franz Reindl, is also eager to see the KHL come to town. “I’m sure it will happen,” he said. “I’m sure we could comfortably promote any team, and the game could be played in any of Cologne, Dusseldorf or Hamburg, where there is a great arena but for several years there has been no hockey team. Dmitry Chernyshenko speaks of the need to work together – we have the greatest sport on Earth, so let’s promote it together.”
One local was especially impressed with the whole event. Budding hockey star Timo Jenni, 13, was one of the youngsters invited to escort the players to the ice when SKA played Dinamo Riga. Jenni was paired with Russian international D-man Vladislav Gavrikov and wrote a short note in Russian afterwards to say how thrilled he had been by the experience.
Impressed, Gavrikov asked the event organizers to give his stick to the youngster at the follow-up game between Dinamo and CSKA. That happened, but there was a minor hitch: Jenni, a regular with the SCL Young Tigers hockey team, had a game that night. While Jenni played for the Tigers, father Heinz went back to the arena to collect a very special package for his son.
The CSKA game featured another stick exchange. When Kirill Kaprizov emerged for a post-game warm-down, a youngster in a Russian hockey jersey caught his eye. The lad and his mother rushed to the front of the tribune and Kaprizov ceremonially handed over his stick, while Mum posed for a photo with Russian singing star Pelageya, wife of CSKA’s Ivan Telegin. It turned out that the lucky youngster was the grandson of renowned Soviet goalie Vladimir Myshkin.