The last week of regular season action saw CSKA finish on top of the table. The Army Club’s success drove another increase in KHL attendances. In Finland, Jokerit became the first club to try out our new smart puck technology in a competitive game, unveiling the sophisticated new data stream during its final three home games.
The regular season championship went to CSKA Moscow. The Army Men finished with a 10-game winning streak and lost just nine of their 62 outings in an impressive campaign. Those 53 victories established a new KHL record; goalies Ilya Sorokin and Lars Johansson shared 20 shut-outs and Kirill Kaprizov potted 11 game-winning goals to equal another KHL record. Not surprisingly, CSKA saw a big boost in crowds amid all this good form: after moving to Moscow’s Park of Legends, the Red-and-Blues enjoyed a 215% increase in fans coming to the arena.
The 2018-19 regular season was bigger and better than ever – and was rewarded with an average attendance of 6,389 as well as a new league record attendance of almost 70,000 when SKA faced CSKA at St. Petersburg’s World Cup soccer stadium. That’s the best in the last four seasons and the second highest average in the KHL’s 11 campaigns to date. Moreover, it was achieved with one club, Avangard, forced into a temporary 3,000km from its heartland in Omsk. More competitive hockey on the ice, and a better spectator experience for fans, mean ever greater enthusiasm for our game.
Nikita Gusev stormed to victory in this year’s scoring race, finishing the season with 81 (17+64) points. That’s only the second time a player has topped 80 points in a single campaign, with the great Sergei Mozyakin becoming the first to achieve that feat in 2016-17. Gusev also smashed Alexander Radulov’s record for assists in one season; in 2011, Radulov had 61 helpers for Salavat Yulaev. Both Radulov and Mozyakin went to the Gagarin Cup final in those years – will Gusev and SKA follow suit?
The Jokerit-Slovan match-up also produced one of the season’s most memorable goals. Home defenseman Oliver Lauridsen was standing on his own goal-line when he shot the puck up the ice … and saw it bounce past Slovan’s rookie goalie Michal Vojvoda and into the net! Usually, a player scoring coast-to-coast expects to do some serious skating to; Lauridsen found an improbable short cut. Vojvoda, who finished on the wrong end of a 7-1 scoreline, recovered fast: in Slovan’s next game the youngster bounced back to limit Sochi to just two goals against a short-benched Slovak team.
Kunlun Red Star, our Chinese franchise, spent most of the last two seasons playing in ‘exile’ in Shanghai. However, the team was able to return to Beijing for the end of the regular season and found that its fans had not deserted it in its home city. The Shougang Arena was full to capacity for end-of-season games against Admiral and Barys, prompting head coach Curt Fraser to praise the growing audience for hockey in the 2022 Winter Olympic host nation.
Monday’s playoff action sees a new postseason schedule in place. In previous years, games in the Western and Eastern Conferences have alternated day by day. This season, the action reaches right across the KHL’s territory, every gameday. Monday sees two games from each conference – Lokomotiv vs Sochi and Jokerit vs Dynamo in the West, Magnitka-Salavat Yulaev and Avangard-Ak Bars in the East. Tuesday brings the conference leaders to the table: CSKA vs Vityaz and SKA-Spartak in the West, Avtomobilist-Traktor and Barys vs Torpedo in the East. As usual, all playoff series are played until one team achieves four victories.