Monday, 6 May 2013

Two New Teams, One Returning?

There are currently 26 teams in the KHL that competed over the last season for the Gagarin Cup. Next season, the number has already increased to 28 teams, and there's still a significant portion of the summer remaining! Two expansion teams will join Eurasia's highest professional hockey league as the KHL welcomes a team from Vladivostok and Croatian club Medvescak of Zagreb into the league starting season.

Vladisvostok is situated about as far east as one can go in Russia. It's just north of the North Korean border, and sits on the northern coast of the Sea of Japan. Approximately 600,000 people live in the Russian city, and is home to the largest Russian port on the Pacific Ocean, meaning that shipping and fishing make up a large portion of the city's economy. The temperatures can drop below -20 C in the winter, but the average is around -12 C - a fairly nice winter day, if you ask me.

While no team name was announced for the Vladivostok team at the announcement, Olympic and World champion and Stanley Cup winner Alexander Mogilny was named president of the new club. Mogilny announced that they will be running a contest for fans in terms of finding a team name and logo. Summa Group was also announced as the primary sponsor of the Vladivostok team, giving them a vital influx of cash.

The newly-built Vladivostok Arena is due to open in the fall with seating somewhere in the 7000-seat range. Vladivostok will be a bit of a travel burden for teams as the new team will play some 700 kilometers south of Amur Khabarovsk, but the expansion should help with scheduling road trips for most teams as there are a least a couple of teams within a quick flight of one another.

Congratulations to Vladivostok on their inclusion to the KHL!

The second team, as mentioned above, is Croatian club Medvescak ("Bears") Zagreb. They competed in the Yugoslav Hockey League from 1961 until the break-up of they country in 1991 whereupon they became one of Croatia's most successful and most popular teams. In a rather interesting note, Medvescak actually played on an outdoor rink from 1961 through to 1971 where they finally moved into an indoor rink! Despite their history, they flirted with financial disaster and poor teams until 1986 when they finally got what they needed to be successful: sponsorship and money.

The Gortan Building company assumed ownership and began a heavy recruiting period for their new team, bringing in stars such as Vyacheslav Anisin. Medvescak won the Yugoslav Hockey League's championship in 1989, 1990, and 1991 before despair struck. With the break-up of Yugoslavia, the Gortan Building company's finances fell apart, and, as a result, Medvescak Zagreb lost their highly-paid stars.

It didn't stop the Bears, though, as they tore through the Croatian Ice Hockey League where they won nearly every championship between 1998 and 2006. They stepped up in becoming a KHL farm team in 2006, naming themselves KHL Medveščak II. They then jumped to the Slovenian Hockey League in 2007 where they finished second-place overall. In 2008, they were far and away the best team in the Slovenian League as they only lost once in regulation through the entire season! Needing more competition, Medvescak Zagreb moved to the Austrian Erste Bank Eishockey Liga for the 2009-10 season where they were the last team to qualify for the playoffs before shocking the Graz 99ers in the opening round before falling to eventual champions EC Red Bull Salzburg!

Medvescak Zagreb has a number of sponsors today that include Nestle, American Express, and Citroen, and they are also the only European hockey club to be permitted to wear the UNICEF logo after forming a partnership with the charity in 2010. Medvescak actively work on the campaign to Stop Violence Among Children, and permitted to wear a UNICEF sleeve logo. They also change the hockey club's blue logo color to UNICEF's cyan color at events where UNICEF is represented.

Congratulations on Croatia's Medvescak Zagreb on their inclusion into the KHL!

Lastly, there has been very little noise coming out of HC Lada Togliatti as it was thought that the former KHL team might return for the upcoming season. With a distinct lack of chatter about the team, it appears that they will not be returning. Lada had been a KHL team until the 2010-11 season when the KHL removed their membership due to having an arena that failed to meet the KHL's standards.

Citing financial difficulties along withe the KHL's removal of their membership, Lada Togliatti will continue to play in the VHL for the upcoming season, what is essentially Russia's version of the AHL. Lada Togliatti didn't really factor into the KHL standings in any of their seasons in the top-tiered league, so it might be better that they relegated themselves rather than taking beatings from some of the great KHL teams.

So there are a few KHL updates while the NHL Playoffs are happening. I happen to like the inclusion of Medvescak Zagreb into the KHL, and we'll see how this new Vladivostok team turns out as they begin their history in the KHL this season.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

JeffB said...

"a bit of a travel burden"? Vladivostok is closer to Vancouver than it is to the KHL team in Prague!