Friday, 20 November 2015

Russia Celebrates January 23

I hope you've booked the weekend of January 23 clear. You might want to take the Friday and Monday off at work as well because it's going to be a busy weekend. If you had tuned into The Hockey Show yesterday, you'd have heard that the NWHL All-Star Game is that very weekend. They, however, are not the only league to be sending their league's best players to one location. The KHL will and CWHL reportedly will hold their respective All-Star Games that very weekend as three prominent leagues try to compete with one another for interest from fans. The NWHL All-Star Game will take place in Buffalo, the KHL All-Star Game will happen in Moscow, while the CWHL's game reportedly will be in either Toronto or Montreal.

We discussed the gimmick-filled NWHL All-Star Game on the show last night, so I'm not going to go through the details here again. Needless to say, I'm not impressed in that they took the gimmicks that killed the NHL All-Star Game and decided to use them for their own game. I'm not sure who decided this, but if it didn't work for the NHL where fans are tuning out the game in droves, why would you adopt the same things that caused the NHL fans to stop watching?

In any case, there will be one more confirmed game that weekend as the KHL has announced that the VTB Ice Palace in Moscow will be the site for the 2016 KHL All-Star Game. The VTB Ice Palace plays host to Dynamo Moscow during the regular season, but it sounds like the KHL is also doing a little work for the Russian Hockey Federation with this announcement. KHL Hockey Operations Vice-President Georgy Kobylyansky stated, “The VTB Ice Palace is a state-of-the-art arena with room for 12,000 spectators, and is the perfect venue for the capital to stage a brilliant and unforgettable show for hockey fans everywhere. The arena has also been chosen to host some of the games in the 2016 IIHF World Championship, which will take place in Russia in May of next year. The KHL All-Star Game, as well as Dynamo Moscow’s home games throughout the 2015-16 season, will provide the perfect test for the VTB Ice Palace in the months leading up to the World Championship.”

This will be the second time that Moscow has played host to the KHL All-Star Game. The last time we saw the game there, it was played outdoors at Red Square with some iconic imagery in the background.
While this imagery won't be seen from inside the VTB ICe Palace, you will see the stars of the KHL light up the ice as they run through the skills competition and the game on the weekend. So who will be going? While it's still early to make definitive choices who will appear for the two squads, there are some players who have stood out thus far.

Over in the Eastern Conference, Sergei Mozyakin of Metallurg Magnitogorsk will likely head to the game as he leads the KHL in goals with 22. Linus Omark will likely go for the Eastern Conference as well as Omark is tied for the lead in assists with 22. He's tied with another man who should go in Jan Kovar who is Mozyakin's linemate in Magnitogorsk. They should be joined by Nigel Dawes who has 18 goals and 28 points for Barys Astana, and his linemate Brandon Bochenski should also get a nod as he also has 22 assists on the season. Anatoly Golyshev of Avtomobilist should get an invite on the strength of his 18 goals thus far.

On the blue line, Sami Lepisto of Salavat is fourth in scoring by a defenceman with 21 points while Lada's Tobias Viklund is second in goals by a defenceman. In net, I'd like to see Neftekhimik's Alexander Sudnitsin go to the game as one of the goaltenders as he's been a standout with Neftekhimik despite their inability to score. Sudnitsin has a 1.60 GAA and a .945 save percentage on a 10-9 record in 28 games. Amur's Juha Metsola is another strong candidate despite his team being offensively-anemic. Metsola has a 1.88 GAA and a .931 save percentage with five shutouts despite his record being 10-15 in 31 appearances this season.

The Western Conference will see some familiar names show up. CSKA's Alexander Radulov will likely be included after he's off to a 34-point start to the season. CSKA teammate Geoff Platt may join him as he's already tallied 15 times this season. Jokerit should see former Leaf Brandon Kozun head to the game as he has 32 points already this season. Matt Eliison of Dinamo Minsk will probably go as he has 15 goals as the fourth-best sniper this season, and Lokomotiv's Petri Kontiola will be invited as he's another player who has 22 assists on the season already.

The hometown Dynamo Moscow will likely be represented by defenceman Mat Robinson as he leads all defencemen in scoring with 27 points thus far. Slovan's Cam Barker will likely join him as he's second in scoring from the blue line with 25 points while Dinamo Minsk will add the third-leading scorer from the blue liners in Nick Bailen with 23 points. Lokomotiv's Alexei Murygin should be a strong candidate for the netminders as he's sporting a 1.04 GAA, a .957 save percentage, seven shutouts, and a 12-4 record in 17 appearances. CSKA's Ilya Sorokin will probably be one of the other netminders as he has a ridiculous 0.97 GAA, a .957 save percentage, five shutouts, and an 8-3 record in 12 appearances this season.

The one name I didn't put in writing? SKA St. Petersburg's Ilya Kovalchuk. There's more than a good chance he'll be invited, but Kovalchuk is having himself an awful season by his standards. He's fourth in team scoring with five goals and 12 assists in 23 games. He was injured for eight games with a knee injury, but he's a team-worst -13 this season so he hasn't had anything close to the season that one would expect out of him. He might get the call, but he should do the right thing this season and let someone else attend in his place. He is not, statistically, one of the KHL's best by any means.

So there's a quick primer for your January 23 weekend. There will be lots of hockey, lots of skills competitions, and a few gimmicks to deal with, but there should be some good hockey at various points. There have been no announcements if anyone will carry the KHL All-Star Game, but I assume will have coverage if you want to be up very early that morning!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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