Then on Sunday, the four divisions pit their top players against each other in a four-team tournament to determine this year’s All-Star champion. The move away from the traditional one-off inter-conference exhibition clash has been a big success, bringing a competitive edge to a light-hearted show and giving spectators the best of both worlds.
Traditionally, the All-Star Game brings glimpses of new technology. Last year, for the first time, the KHL unveiled its Smart Pucks in Kazan. This season, of course, that system has rolled out across the entire league, giving unparalleled data about all the action. This year, the opening ceremony for the All-Star Game takes the tech to a new level. Forget the familiar light show on the ice; this will be a full multi-media experience on a stage 21 square meters in size.
A quick look at this year’s four All-Star captains highlights the depth of quality on offer at the weekend. On home ice at Dynamo’s VTB Arena, Vadim Shipachyov will lead Team Bobrov. Shipachyov has been in blistering form this season with 55 (15+40) points from 50 games to lead the KHL in scoring. Another big scorer, Kirill Kaprizov, lies third in the race with 45 points for CSKA. He captains Team Tarasov, and has already been busy ensuring Vyacheslav Gretsky, the unexpected All-Star pick from Dinamo Minsk, feels part of the team. Danis Zaripov needs no introduction. The Team Kharlamov captain has won an unprecedented five Gagarin Cups, most recently in 2018 with Ak Bars. Darren Dietz of Barys is the only defenseman on the list, and the only import. The Canadian-born blue-liner’s two-way role is already famous in his third season in the KHL.
The 2020 FONBET All-Star Game features players representing 11 nations. And one flag will fly proudly over the event for the first time. Brandon Yip, captain and record-breaker with Kunlun Red Star, is set to become the first Chinese player to take part in the event.
“I guessed that I might be the first Chinese player, given that Kunlun hasn’t played all that long in the league,” he said. “Of course, I’m proud to represent China at this event and also to make history. I hope I can make a good impression.”
Amid all the excitement, there is some sad news to report. For the first time in the history of KHL All-Star action, there will be no Sergei Mozyakin. Of course, that’s no reflection on the record-breaking scorer. All things being equal, Metallurg’s captain would be suiting up for Team Kharlamov and – more than likely – extending his scoring records in All-Star play. Unfortunately, though, illness has prevented that, meaning Dennis Rasmussen has the honor of representing Magnitogorsk. And thus, after a run of 11 unbroken All-Star appearances, the ‘iron man’ sequence comes to an end. Will there be another player sufficiently dominant in the KHL to challenge it?
Once again, the four leading players from the JHL Challenge Cup are back in the show as the KHL All-Star Game tops the bill. This year’s quartet is packed full of potential and ready to take another step towards the big time over the weekend.
First, there’s Nikita Goncharov. This 20-year-old from Oryol made his KHL debut with Vityaz last season and continues to develop at junior level. He’s enjoying his best ever season in the JHL, with 30 (14+16) points from 32 games for Russkiye Vityazi this season. Then there’s Yegor Anisimov, captain of Dynamo St. Petersburg this season, and hoping to get on the ice with fellow Novokuznetsk native Kirill Kaprizov. From Team East, we have Yegor Chinakhov of Omskiye Yastreby, winner of a World U18 silver medal last season and rattling along at more than a point a game in the league this season. Finally, Altai’s German Shaporev has been in still more devastating form this season, picking up 53 (29+24) points in 43 appearances for the team from Ust-Kamenogorsk.
Promoting the top junior stars is no gimmick. These kids aren’t just here to make up the numbers. Previous years have proved that the youngsters can make an impact in their own right. Remember 2017, when Andrei Altybarmakyan produced a game-winning, tournament-winning goal to grace any highlight reel? He’s since established himself as an important player at HC Sochi. And last year saw one Kirill Marchenko get an All-Star invite. The 19-year-old has built on that experience, making himself a part of the first team at SKA and impressing during Russia’s recent World Junior Championship campaign.
In recent years, Russia’s leading hockey journalists have been invited to prove that they don’t just talk a good game. Prominent broadcasters have become a feature among the coaching staff at the All-Star Game. However, for the last two seasons, the assistant coaching spots have been exclusively reserved for female reporters. In the interests of equality, therefore, 2020 sees the guys get their chance. Four famed commentators, often heard on KHL TV, will take part in this year’s game. For Team Bobrov, Dmitry Fedorov joins SKA’s Alexei Kudashov, while in the Tarasov Division last year’s Gagarin Cup winner Igor Nikitin will work alongside Leonid Weisfeld, who adds coaching to a CV that already features a career as a hugely-respected referee before moving into the media. Denis Kazansky resumes his partnership with Dmitry Kvartlanov, having previously helped him take the reins of Team Tarasov in Ufa in 2017. And Team Chernyshev brings together Bob Hartley with the excitable Oleg Mosalyov, nicknamed ‘Mr. Oy! Oy! Oy!’.
Nobody can visit Moscow without taking a trip to Red Square, and the All-Star Game is no exception. The outdoor rink – which hosted the first KHL All-Star Game back in 2009 – has staged several events during the week. The last of them comes on Sunday morning, when mascots of all 24 teams in the KHL take to the ice for their special show before the final action of the weekend at the VTB Arena.
The players, quite rightly, are the top stars in this show. The set-up for 2020 allows even greater scope for them to demonstrate their skills and creativity. But there’s also plenty of focus on the fans – without whom, there would be no sport. In conjunction with the KHL’s partners, the VTB Arena offers a host of different activities for hockey lovers young and old. FONBET, the headline sponsor of the All-Star Week, has a special zone with prize contests and autograph sessions with the All-Stars of the past. Mastercard has set up a ‘Priceless Quest’, with five unexpected challenges for visitors to the games. Megafon is running the ever-popular Air Hockey tournament along with meet-and-greets with this year’s All-Stars in the build-up to the Skill Show. And there’s a modern twist on the traditional autograph session, with a digital version alongside the familiar pen-and-paper affair.
This year’s FONBET All-Star Weekend will be broadcast in 25 different countries outside of Russia: Lativa, Lithuania, Estonia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Croatia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Slovenia, Switzerland, Great Britain, Ireland, Bulgaria, China, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the USA. And, wherever you are, the whole event will available to see online via KHL TV.