All-Star Week in the KHL and its various other leagues is upon us, and starting tomorrow all eyes turn to the Bashkir capital city of Ufa, where this year’s festivities are taking place. Read on, for a look at what is planned (and what has already happened)!
The 2016-17 All-Star party actually got underway a couple of days ago, when the junior-age MHL held its East versus West Challenge Cup. Unlike most All-Star games, this one was played with some intensity, as the four best players of the game would get berths in the KHL All-Star tournament. In the end, the Challenge Cup went to a shootout with the score tied at 1-1, and it was the West who won it thanks to forward Andrei Altybarmakyan of SKA-Serebryanye Lvy, who scored both their lone regulation-time goal and the winning penalty shot.
Along with, obviously, Altybarmakyan, the players selected to play in the KHL event were: forward Pavel Podluboshnov (Krasnaya Armiya Moscow), forward Anton Kovalyov (Omskie Yastreby, scorer of the East’s goal in the Challenge Cup), and hometown defenceman Kirill Tsulygin (Tolpar Ufa).
Also already taking place in Ufa of part of the week’s happenings is the Continental Cup of Sledge Hockey, which opened on Tuesday. The competition features four clubs: SHK Fenix (Russia), the Chinese national team, Sparta Prague (Czechia), and Italy’s Aquile del Sud Tirolo. The tournament will wrap up on Thursday with the bronze- and gold-medal games (YouTube broadcast of the final, between Fenix and Aquile, is here).
Turning to upcoming events, the Ufa Arena will play host, on Thursday, to the first-ever All-Star Game of the Women’s Hockey League. The opening ceremonies of that begin at 6:30 pm local time (8:30 am in eastern North America) with the opening faceoff a half-hour later. The game will be streamed live on YouTube, and I have embedded the link to that at the top of this article. Of note: commentary will be provided by Agidel Ufa player Yekterina Ananyina, with whom I had a chance to chat about hockey last year (many thanks to Denis Osipchuk for that piece of news). The Women’s Hockey League All-Star game will be an East-West affair as well, and you can see the lineups for it here (link in Russian). Among the players selected is SK Sverdlovsk Oblast goalie Valeriya Merkusheva, heroine of Russia’s bronze-medal success at the recent Under-18 Women’s World Championship.
All-Star Week gets Friday off, and then resumes on Saturday with the KHL’s own Master-Show (i.e. the skills competition). That event has traditionally provided some entertaining and unusual highlights, including but not limited to: Yegor Milovzorov being a fish, Mikhail Anisin singing “O Sole Mio,” pairs figure-skating featuring Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexei Morozov, and I could go on. The most famous moment of last year’s skills competition was the one in the video above, as Salavat Yulaev Ufa’s Linus Omark set his stick on fire before his attempt in the shootout portion of the day’s events. Omark will be back at this year’s festivities, and it will be interesting to see what he comes up with to entertain the fans in Ufa, where he plays his “regular” hockey for Salavat Yulaev.
The KHL All-Star tournament itself will take place on Sunday. There is a new format this year, very similar to the one adopted by the NHL last season: each of the league’s four divisions has an 11-player team, and the competition will involve a semi-final and final round with the games played four-on-four. Past editions of the All-Star game have also provided some wonderful moments, including all-time KHL scoring leader Sergei Mozyakin being stopped on a penalty shot by famous goalie… Alexander Radulov? They have also, as is the norm, produced buckets of goals; last season’s game saw the West Conference come out on top by 28-23. I will post links to livestreams for the Master-Show and the games themselves if and when I get them — in the meantime, the KHL All-Star game webpage is here, with rosters, news, etc.
You may be wondering why I devoted an entire post to the KHL All-Star Game; these events, in any sport and league, are often seen as the bane of “real” fans. After all, they crop up in the middle of the season, interrupting the pleasant flow of meaningful matches. Well, if such is your opinion, I would encourage to check out the KHL’s All-Star doings; the Russian league has in past years hurled itself into organizing its ASGs with the kind of gleeful lightheartedness that too often seems to be beyond the grasp of the more staid NHL. Furthermore, the addition of MHL, Women’s League, and sledge hockey competitions to this year’s calendar have added to the interest level, while also providing some well-deserved exposure to athletes who don’t get enough of it. In any case, I highly recommend that you check it all out even if you’re a bit dubious about such events — you may be pleasantly surprised!