Monday, 31 July 2017

Beyond Its Normal Borders

Having witnessed a few of these over the course of time, the KHL usually enjoys holding their annual All-Star weekend in a major Russian city. There are many reasons for this, among them the facility is usually modern, the crowds are large, and there's a good chance a TV crew will be on-hand to cover the game's action. We've seen the game played in Moscow, Sochi, and, most recently, in Ufa, but it seems that the KHL All-Star Game will once again include one of the cities outside its Russian borders as Astana, Kazakhstan joins Riga, Latvia and Bratislava, Slovkia as the non-Russian cities to host the game. To say this is a big move may be understating how large an opportunity this is for Astana and the entire Kazakhstani region.

The above logo is the logo for the 2018 KHL All-Star weekend which will once again not only include the KHL's biggest stars and best players, but will also bring back the Youth Hockey League and the Women's Hockey League for another weekend of hockey action for all people of all ages and genders. The logo, designed with traditional Kazakh ornamentation and the blue and yellow colours of the national flag, is representative of not only the strong support of the Barys Astana team, but the growing hockey population in Kazakhstan as a whole.

Kazakhstani citizen and current Barys Astana forward Nigel Dawes stated, "I am very glad the KHL chose Astana as the venue for next year's Week of Hockey Stars. The city deserves the honor and so do the supporters, as they are among the best hockey fans in the entire League. It will be a great opportunity for people from different countries to come and visit the beautiful city of Astana and to experience the incredible positive emotions in our new ice palace. There are not many arenas as good as the one built in the Kazakhstan capital, and I hope that once again I will be chosen to participate in this wonderful festival of hockey."

While jerseys have yet to be unveiled, I'd expect the blue and yellow colours to be two of the four jerseys introduced with a white and possibly a black jersey for the remaining two teams. This would seemingly give enough contract among the teams to prevent any confusion while the four All-Star squads battle for the right to call themselves "champions". I think there's opportunities to accent each jersey with the four colours as well, but it will depend on design as to how those accents are applied. From an educated guess, though, I'm thinking those are the four colours used.

Dynamo Moscow defenceman Ilya Nikulin was quick to point out the amazing city and the modern arena as reason to be excited, saying,
"I was really pleased when I heard that Astana had won the right to stage the All-Star Game. The packed schedule in the Championship means we usually only see these cities from the windows of the team bus, but even then it is impossible not to notice how beautiful and modern a city is Astana. This, plus their superb stadium, means they have the two main ingredients needed for a memorable festival. Kazakhstan is a Republic whose people love their hockey and are keen to attend the games. Astana is sure to try to create something unexpected for the fans and guests - I've no doubt there will be surprises. Each year, the All-Star Game introduces something novel and innovative, and the 2018 event will be no exception. Perhaps the surprises will have some connection with Kazakhstan culture, but in any case, I'm sure it will be interesting. Astana has all that’s needed to stage the best All-Star Game of all, and if I am selected, it will be a pleasure to take part in it."
All in all, I'm excited for Astana to be hosting the tenth edition of the KHL "Week of Hockey Stars" - their name, not mine - this January. It will be a while before players are selected and teams are divvied up, but the city and its fans should be revved up for this game when it finally arrives. I'm hoping a strong Astana contingent is represented with names like Dawes, Kevin Dallman, and Roman Savchenko who both play for Barys and represent Kazakhstan as citizens. Nothing lends to immediate growth as the validation of one's countrymen as stars, and the inclusion of these players should help bump a few more kids into hockey in Kazakhstan if they play in the game.

While the KHL isn't necessarily in the "grow the game" business, having the KHL All-Star Game in Astana may be very beneficial for hockey growth in Asia. With China heavily invested in getting its teams ready for the 2022 Beijing Olympics, this could be the shot in the arm that the Kazakhstan team needs if it wants to get back to the biggest stage in hockey.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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