What started as a behind the scenes discussion at last summer's World Hockey Summit is now a somewhat modified reality: junior clubs from eight different countries will be competing this week in Omsk, Russia for this trophy. It isn't the star studded lineup of national champions the organizers had hoped for, but the inaugural tournament offers intirigue for those of us who like to compare the quality of the various leagues. The Russian Minor Hockey League, entering its third season of existence, will be represented by four different clubs, including the only team to win a championship last year: CSKA-Krasnaja Armija Moskva, or the youth team of CSKA Moscow (Red Army). The other three MHL entries represent Latvia (HK Riga), Belarus (Dinamo-Shinnik), and Slovakia (Tatranskí Vici). Beyond the MHL, teams from top junior leagues in Sweden (Malmö Redhawks) and the Czech Republic (HC Energie Karlovy Vary) will be joined by two teams from second and even third tier leagues in North America: the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the AJHL (arguably Canada's top Junior A circuit), and a team of Eastern Junior Hockey League Selects representing the USA. The EJHL is considered the top third tier junior league in the USA, well behind the USHL (Tier 1) and NAHL (Tier 2).
The lack of any Canadian Hockey League teams (QMJHL, OHL, WHL) is a real disappointment for the organizers. There are logistical concerns for sure, but concerns about the quality of play seem, well, out of line. Russian junior Select teams take on Canadian All-Star teams every November in Canada before sellout crowds in the Subway Super Series, and for the first time, the Russian Selects won that series last fall. The team was composed almost entirely of MHL players, with a few ringers from CHL teams added depending on the location of the games. The Russian team has to travel from Atlantic Canada right across the country to British Columbia within a two week time span to play six games, hardly an easy journey to make. I think some reciprocity should be in order.
Dmitry Yefimov, the Managing Director of the MHL, had this to say in an interview on the MHL website given by Maxim Zamyatin of Allhockey.ru:
Why don’t the CHL clubs want to send their players to the tournament in Omsk?
"It’s hard for me to answer for the Canadians. In my opinion, I find it impossible that they wouldn’t
want to come here because of our low level hockey, because we proved our level at the World
Championships six months ago."
Maybe they don’t see our team as a worthy opponent because of the MHL? Remember the
condescending attitude they had towards our players at the Summit Series in 1972.
"Prejudices can be shattered on the ice. Our team went to the Super Series last fall and also won
the World Championships. That’s an indication of the quality of the league and the players in
the league. Maybe a lot of it is due to the fact that politics get involved in junior sports in North
America. Politics can often put pressure on sports and maybe somewhere out there lies the answer
to the question on why teams from Ontario or Quebec don’t want to play with us. To send a team
here is a difficult decision for them; it means that someone must take responsibility, also for the
And we have it easier here? Some of our teams are going there all the time.
"Yes, it is easier here. We look at our work as hockey. For example we sent the team Red Star to
play there two years in a row. Fox went to Boston recently, they ended up in third place, and we’re
fine with that. Hockey is a game where everyone can’t win. We see this as a serious sports project
that is about development. We are ready to play with the CHL teams or any American league teams
in general, and if we lose, it’s not a tragedy. If the Canadians don’t bring CHL teams to play here, is
it worse for them than it is for us? I don’t know."
What can you say about the North American teams that are coming over?
"I don’t think they’re weak. In general, the average level of junior hockey is very high in Canada. I
get so many questions about the level of Canadians and Americans! I want to say this; let’s watch
the games, watch those teams play, and then we can say if they are weak or not. If we already have
our minds set on the North Americans being weak, we can see them surprise us in the end."
We simply know very little about the Canadian Oil Barons from Alberta and the American team
from the Eastern Junior Hockey League. That’s why we’re asking.
"We know very little about junior hockey in both North America and Europe in general."
While the whole conversation is interesting, the part in bold is where Yefimov seems to be calling the CHL chicken.
As for the USHL: later in the interview Yefimov claims that the representatives from that league were more concerned with what kind of team Canada was sending then the rest of the competition, so you can read into that whatever you'd like.
We'll see how well a Junior A team does in this competition: in exhibition play, Fort McMurray is 1-1, beating Atlant Mytischi's MHL team 4-2 (they aren't in the tournament), but then losing to CSKA in a blowout, 7-0. CSKA also defeated Mälmo 8-2, so look for them to be this tournament's favourites, even if Nikita Kucherov is not expected to play (he's currently with the senior team in preseason action) and top 2012 draft pick Mikhail Grigorenko has officially committed to joining the Quebec Ramparts of the QMJHL.
To me, this tournament is a great idea. But it could be doomed without much commitment beyond the MHL. There are no entries from Finland, Switzerland, or Germany and that will hopefully be rectified in the future. And, of course, hopefully the North American teams will be stronger in the future, especially if the level they are currently sending are indeed inferior to the MHL teams.
Better yet, you should be able to watch or at least listen to the games online. KHL-TV and Russia2 are carrying the games, as well as LTV out of Latvia (HK Riga games) and STV for Slovakia (Tatranskí Vici games). The Oil Barons games will at least be broadcast on audio on Ustream (audio of the two exhibition games are archived there), although I haven't found anything being done for the EJHL team (other than some post-game blogging on the official website by some of the players).
Expect some really early start times for the games. I don't have fully accurate schedules yet, but from this Slovak website I can gather that the games will be at 10:00 and 15:00 CET. That would make it 4:00 AM EDT and 9:00 AM EDT for the EJHL followers, and for Fort McMurray fans that's 2:00 AM and 7:00 AM MDT. Those games would be at 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM local time in Omsk... not easy for fans in North America to follow!
|Date||Group||Team 1||Team 2||Venue|
|Aug 30||A||EJHL All-Stars||HK Riga||Omsk Arena|
|Aug 30||B||Energie Karlovy Vary||Mälmo Redhawks||SCC V. Bilnova|
|Aug 30||A||CSKA Moscow||Tatranskí Vici||Omsk Arena|
|Aug 30||B||Fort McMurray||Dinamo-Shinnik||SCC V. Bilnova|
|Aug 31||A||Tatranskí Vici||EJHL All-Stars||Omsk Arena|
|Aug 31||B||Dinamo-Shinnik||Energie Karlovy Vary||SCC V. Bilnova|
|Aug 31||A||HK Riga||CSKA Moscow||Omsk Arena|
|Aug 31||B||Mälmo Redhawks||Fort McMurray||SCC V. Bilnova|
|Sept 2||A||HK Riga||Tatranskí Vici||Omsk Arena|
|Sept 2||B||Mälmo Redhawks||Dinamo-Shinnik||SCC V. Bilnova|
|Sept 2||A||CSKA Moscow||EJHL All-Stars||Omsk Arena|
|Sept 2||B||Fort McMurray||Energie Karlovy Vary||SCC V. Bilnova|
|Sept 3||FINAL||Group A Winner||Group B Winner||Omsk Arena|