The Showman – Julius Hudacek (Spartak, team Bobrov)
There’s always a bit of razzamatazz about Spartak’s Slovak goalie. When he first arrived in the KHL to play for Severstal, the reputation of his Huda-Show preceded him. Subsequently, in Severstal and now in Moscow, he’s become a firm favorite with the fans for his enthusiastic post-game celebrations. Regular season means regular parties, but the All-Star weekend means that little bit extra. Look out for the latest antics from one of the KHL’s best-loved players … there’s a reason why they say goalies are a little bit crazy.
With Dynamo hosting this year’s event, the Blue-and-Whites were always going to have big representation. But wherever this season’s All-Star action took place, it would be impossible to overlook the claims of Shipachyov and Jaskin. Since lining up together at the start of the season, following the Czech’s arrival in the KHL, the pair have been devastating. Between them, they have 91 points this season; Jaskin leads the league in goals (19), Shipachyov in points (48) and assists (36). The current four-team All-Star format might have ended the scoring processions of the past, but with these two around there will be little rest for the goalies.
The unlikely rookie – Alexander Semin (Vityaz, team Tarasov)
At the age of 36, there’s not much that forward Alexander Semin hasn’t achieved. Twice, he’s scored in World Championship finals to help Russia win gold. He helped Metallurg to a Gagarin Cup in 2016 and made a splash during the NHL lock-out of 2012/13 by returning to play second-tier hockey with hometown team Sokol Krasnoyarsk. Yet this will be his first All-Star appearance, here or in the NHL. And it might lead to another first: throughout his career, Semin has been reluctant to speak to the media. However, the All-Star atmosphere is a different story; the pressure is off and there’s a chance for players to kick back and let their personalities shine. Maybe, at last, we’ll hear something from the Vityaz captain?
The power of social media – Vyacheslav Gretsky (Dinamo Minsk, team Tarasov)
Gretsky #99. Even with a slightly different spelling, it resonates through the hockey world. So when Dinamo Minsk’s fans were deciding who should be the focus of the annual flashmob during the All-Star vote, it wasn’t a huge surprise that they hit on a little-known 22-year-old from Grodno. The stunt paid off; Vyacheslav Gretsky earned his place on the team as the fans pick, ahead of luminaries such as Kirill Kaprizov. It’s part of the magic of the All-Star experience: dreams can come true, and new stories emerge every year. And that spelling issue? It’s worth remembering that in the Cyrillic alphabet, Гретцкий is Гретцкий, whether Wayne or Slava.
The eternal forward – Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg, team Kharlamov)
It’s edition #12 of the All-Star Game, from its beginnings on Red Square in 2008/09 to the present. And one man has been there every time. Sergei Mozyakin, the KHL’s master marksman and holder of almost every record imaginable in the league, is back for the 12th time in 2020. Potentially, he could form a line with Pavel Datsyuk (Avtomobilist) and Danis Zaripov (Ak Bars), establishing a trio with a combined age of 119. A reminder that, much as the KHL thirsts for innovation, like a fine wine or a vintage whisky, some things never get old.
The record breaker – Timur Bilyalov (Ak Bars, team Kharlamov)
When Bilyalov returned to Kazan after a season at Dinamo Riga, it wasn’t a blockbuster trade. Ak Bars was looking at Sweden’s Adam Reideborn as its #1 goalie for the coming campaign, local lad Bilyalov seemed destined to be the supporting act. But the 24-year-old forced his way into the reckoning in spectacular style. There was nothing wrong with Reideborn’s performances, but Bilyalov took things up a notch and made it impossible to leave him out of the team. A shut-out streak lasting 319 minutes set a new record. Not just a club record, nor even a KHL record – an all-time Russian record! That’s All-Star form right there, and there was little doubt that he’d be making his debut in the big game this year.
It doesn’t feel like a proper All-Star weekend without a musical interlude. Mathew Maione brought the house down last year, adding a touch of rock’n’roll to his rookie season in Riga; others have attempted light opera or dances on ice. Maybe 2020 will see the Chernyshev goaltending tandem turn into the headline act. Bobkov’s performance on guitar and vocals in last year’s locker room was a highlight; he was accompanied by Metsola on the recorder. Both have hit the right notes throughout the season so far – maybe this year they can give us a tune out there on the ice?
The first Chinese All-Star – Brandon Yip (Kunlun Red Star, team Chernyshev)
There are 11 different nations represented at this year’s All-Star Game, and China is among them for the first time. Of course, Kunlun Red Star has had players here before – Chad Rau, Magnus Hellberg – but for the first time the team from the People’s Republic is represented by one of the players expected to don the red uniform at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing. Yip, born in British Columbia, qualifies as a Chinese citizen through his parents; he’s completed enough time playing in China to meet the IIHF’s naturalization criteria and, if all goes to plan, he’ll be a key man for his country in two years’ time. Before that, though, he will make another little bit of Chinese hockey history, becoming the first player from China to make it as a KHL All-Star.