Wednesday, November 17, 2010


As an avid hockey fan (the Canadian stereotype is true) I have enjoyed going to a couple of KHL games in Russia and watching quite a few on television. The KHL is home to a lot of hockey talent, many of whom end up in the NHL in North America.

Hockey superstars from Russia such as Alexei Ovechkin, Marion Hossa, Alexander Eremenko, Z'Dno Chara and Alexandre Yashin all came from the KHL. Indeed, Russia has always been a hockey super-power, and the Soviet Union won gold in every competition until 1972 when, four years before the Americans did it (and took all the credit..."Miracle On Ice" my ass...more like "We Finally Managed To Do It After Canada Did It Twice And Sweden Once...On Ice"), a team of plucky young men from Canada defeated the Soviets in game seven of a nail-biting international series.

The KHL has 23 teams divided into two conferences, east and west. In May of every year the two teams left standing after a grueling playoff season compete in the Gagarin Cup (named after the famous first man in space). One thing I've noticed from watching KHL games is that there seems to be a no-checking rule in place, much like in Olympic and women's hockey. As a result there is a greater emphasis on puck-handling and passing, although the strategic element of running roughshod over one's opponent is lacking. The stadiums are also much smaller than the gigantic colosseums of the NHL, and as a result I find the NHL, with it's good balance of skillful European skating and bone-crushing North-American hits, much more entertaining.

The teams of the KHL are as follows:


Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo: A decent team and home to the Soviet goaltending legend Viktor Konovalenko.

Yaroslav Lokomotive: Founded in 1949, Lokomotiv has since spawned a football club by the same name. In 2002 and 2003 they won the Gagarin Cup.

Moscow Spartak: Founded in 1946, Spartak (Spartans) is also the name of a rough-and-tumble Moscow football club whose fans are famous hooligans. The hockey team attracts the same following by sake of the name alone.

Spartak has not won a Gagarin Cup since 1991.

Chekhov Vityaz: The Vityaz (Knights) were founded in 2004 and have not yet won any championships. Nevertheless, their fans are quite passionate and they are one of the only KHL teams to consistently sell-out seats.

Cherepovyets Severstal: Founded in 1956 and owned by a large steel company, they won the cup in 2000.

Minsk Dynamo: The first and only team from Belarus to join the KHL in 2008, Minsk Dynamo is also the current team of up-and-coming NHL draft pick Jordan Henry, a Canadian playing in Minsk.

St. Petersburg SKA: SKA (Sports Klub of the Army), despite it's Soviet-era name, is no longer a military club but owned by Gazprom. They won the championships in 1970, 1971 and 1977, but have since fizzled. They are, however, home to Minnesota Wild right-winger Maxim Sushinksi.

Moscow CSKA: Like the St. Petersburg team, CSKA was a Soviet-era army club but has since gone mercenary (ie: private). CSKA has won more Russian championships and European League cups than any other team in history; 33, all told. Since 1989, however, their star has waned. Between 1975 and 1989 CSKA played 36 games against NHL teams and won 17 of them.

Mytischi Atlant: Formed in 1998, the Atlant won the cup in 2007. They are now the current team of disgraced NHL goaltender, former Ottawa Senator Ray Emery. In keeping with his reputation he earned while in the Stanley Cup finals between Ottawa and Anaheim in 2007, Emery has since, in Mytischi, attacked his coach and been suspended for cocaine use. The Atlant are also the home team of next year's probably first-round NHL draft pick Sergei Mozyakin.

Riga Dynamo: Founded in 2008, they are the first team from Latvia to join the KHL. They are the home team of hockey legend Marcel Hossa. Both Riga Dynamo and Minsk Dynamo were formed at the same time, and by a strange coincidence both teams chose the same name.

Moscow Dynamo: Formed this past year in 2010 and taking the same name as the famous Moscow football club, they have yet to achieve anything other than to add a third Dynamo to the KHL's western conference.


Khabarovsk Amur: Founded in 1966, the Amur are named after the nearby River Amur. They are the most isolated of the KHL teams; the nearest team is 3000 km away! Nevertheless, they manage to continuously win games and took home the championships in 1986 and 2006. They also had NHL veteran Nolan Pratt playing for them for a while.

Khanti-Manskisk Yugra: Since their foundation in 2006, Yugra has continued the tradition of providing top-notch Siberian teams to the world of hockey. They are likely contenders for the 2010-2011 Gagarin Cup.

Novokuznetsk Metallurg: Another fast and powerful team from Siberia, Metallurg won the championships in 1964 and 1966.

Chelyabinsk Traktor: Founded in 1947, Traktor is one of the only teams in the KHL to have beaten Moscow CSKA in the championships. Traktor has also played in the International Hockey League and won it twice. They are currently coached by former NHL veteran Andrei Nazarov, who was born and raised in Chelyabinsk.

Astana Baris: They played their first KHL game in 2008, and I can find little other information about them.

Kazan Ak-Bars: The current super-team of the KHL, the Ak-Bars have won the past three Gagarin Cups and have yet to lose a game in the European Hockey League. Founded in 1958, the Ak-Bars (Tatar for "Snow Leopards") carries on the tradition of it's Mongol namesake by being one of the roughest and fastest teams in the KHL. NHL superstars Alexei Kovalev and Alexei Morozov have played for the Ak-Bars, and the NHL asked Canadian Ak-Bar defenceman Ray Giroux to sign on, but he refused and has stayed loyal to this tough team from Kazan.

Ufa Salavat Yulaev: From the city of Ufa, in southern Siberia, Salavat Yulaev has won 66 of the 77 games they have played, and are likely contenders for this year's championships.

Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik: From the Russian republic of Tatarstan, the Neftekhimik (Petrochemists) have yet to achieve anything spectacular.

Yekaterinburg Avtomobilist: The "Automobilists", despite their incredibly silly name, are a top-notch hockey team with a lot of high-scoring players who we may eventually see in the NHL.

Omsk Avangard: Established in 1950, the Avangard (Avante-Guarde) won the championships in 2004 and then the European Cup in the same year. In 2009 they signed NHL superstars Jamori Jagr and Stanislav Chistov. In the spring of 2010 they were involved in an on-ice, bench-clearing brawl that went viral on YouTube, partly because it was a fight amongst fellow team-members jealous over the ice time Jagr was getting.

Novosibirsk Sibir: The Sibir (Siberians) were formed in 1947 after Russian sports writer Ivan Ivanovich brought the first Canadian hockey stick to Novosibirsk and showed the people what ice hockey was. Fittingly, the Sibir were the first Soviet hockey team to import foreign talent...all of them from Canada.

Magnitogorsk Metallurg: There's something fishy about the large number of teams in the KHL that have the same name, but the Metallurg from Magnitogorsk are the more famous team after they played the New York Rangers in the Victoria Cup and beat them 3-0.

That is the KHL, the second largest hockey league in the world after the NHL, and home to nearly 40% of the NHL's talent, including a long list of hockey superstars whose names are household items (in some houses).

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