The Silk Road
As mentioned in the previous post here, yesterday was a big day, news-wise, for Russian hockey. We have covered the developments at Dynamo Moscow enough for the time being, so now we turn our attention to Tuesday’s other big announcement: a memorandum of understanding between the national hockey bodies of Russia and China on developing the sport in Asia. The agreement includes the expected exchanges of information and expertise, and is part of the China’s fast-tracking of hockey development in advance of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. However, the announcement also means some big changes for the VHL, Russia’s second-highest men’s professional league — no surprise, as that circuit is run directly by the Russian Hockey Federation. Read on, as we delve a little into what it all means…
So what effect will yesterday’s announcement have on the VHL, and what will the league look like in 2017-18? First off, the bad news, and this is un-related to the new Sino-Russian agreement. Team turnover in the VHL is a reality, but a particularly heavy blow was struck this summer with the news that Dynamo Balashikha — newly-crowned VHL champions — will not rejoin the league for the 2017-18 season. The fault for that departure, at least, cannot be laid at the feet of the VHL, but is rather a product of the ongoing chaos at parent club Dynamo Moscow. Other departures from the 2016-17 roster of teams include Kristall Saratov, who ceased operations mid-way through the campaign, and likely THK Tver and Buran Voronezh as well. There may be further losses, and we will not know for sure until the schedule is released.
On the other hand, there are some new arrivals in the VHL to note. Metallurg Novokuznetsk have confirmed their participation after being “relegated” from the KHL as part of that league’s new strategic plan (as a side note, Metallurg will also return to their original logo for the 2017-18 season). And CSK VVS Samara, who played last season in Russia’s third-tier Pervenstvo VHL, have announced plans to move themselves up a league, although nothing has been officially confirmed as regards that situation.
The VHL will also have two new Chinese teams in the coming season, and here we obviously get back to Tuesday’s announcement. The farm team of the KHL’s Kunlun Red Star Beijing will play its home games out of Harbin, in China’s northeast. The creation of Kunlun Red Star Heilongjiang, so-named for the province in which Harbin is located, was announced in late May (the province’s name is the Chinese moniker for the river also known as the Amur). Yesterday’s news, however, further revealed that the Harbin team will have a local rival in the coming season. Jilin City, in the eponymous province located right next to Heilongjiang, will ice a VHL hockey team in 2017-18; details are still lacking, but it sounds as though this will be an independent team, an initiative of the city’s government. Jilin City, incidentally, has a brand-new indoor arena that just opened this past winter.
Those bits of news bring us to the most intriguing tidings from yesterday’s announcement, not to mention the reason for this post’s title. A new competition, the Silk Road Cup, will apparently get underway in 2018-19. Again, we await further information, but from all indications the new tournament will take place throughout the regular hockey season, and will involve teams from the VHL and from East Asia, along with possibly some European sides.
According to Russian Hockey Federation Vice-President RomanRotenberg, the Silk Road Cup will, at least at the beginning, be administered by the VHL, with representation from the Russian and Chinese hockey federations. It sounds, at least a little bit, like a Eurasian version of the European Champions’ Cup tournament, but Rotenberg’s comments suggested something even bigger: he referred specifically to the competition as a “pan-Asian league.” Given that one of the revelations in yesterday’s announcement is that China would eventually like to have eight to ten teams in Silk Road Cup, we must wonder a bit whether a replacement for the current Asia League, and perhaps even for the VHL itself, is the ultimate goal.
That, however, is all for the future; as mentioned, the Silk Road Cup will not get underway until 2018-19. The next step, at least as far as 2017-18 in the VHL is concerned, is to wait for the circuit’s confirmed list of teams. We will revisit the league when that information is released, and of course keep you up to date on any new developments with regard to the Silk Road Cup. In the meantime, thank you for reading!