The Continental Hockey League continues its World Games project, in which regular season meetings are held in European countries not represented in the KHL. Last year, four championship matches were held in Austrian Vienna and Swiss Zurich, and CSKA, SKA, Riga Dynamo and Slovan became participants. This time the project will be limited to one game in Davos, within the framework of which the top clubs of the Eastern Conference “Salavat Yulaev” and “Ak Bars” will compete.
Recently, the NHL has again begun to actively travel the world and work to conquer not only the European, but also the Chinese market. Since 2017, the North American League has approved the implementation of the Global Series and China Games projects, within the framework of which its teams organize not only regular season games in Europe and China, but also exhibition duels with local teams. In total, 16 meetings were organized in 11 different cities, and the guests were Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks and others.
The KHL hastened to respond to the eminent rival by establishing the World Games project, whose main tasks are promoting the brand of the league in Western Europe and attracting new fans. A year ago, the league threw two of its strongest teams at that time - the current champion of SKA and the leader of the regular season of CSKA. CSKA took turns examining first Slovan, and then Riga Dynamo. As a result, all four meetings ended with the victories of the favorites, and the Slovak squad even missed 16 unanswered goals in two matches.
Nevertheless, it was the Russian-Slovak confrontation in Vienna that attracted considerable attention of the fans and allowed to fill the stands of the Erste-Bank Arena almost completely. So, in both games there were more than 5.5 thousand fans, which is a high indicator. Especially considering the fact that the capacity of the complex is 7022 spectators.
But if the duels with Slovan and Dynamo did not have much tournament significance, then the match between Salavat and Ak Bars promises to become over-stressed. This time, the KHL decided not to focus solely on big names, but to provide the Swiss public with an exciting battle, the favorite of which is extremely difficult to determine. Kazan residents occupy the first place in the standings of not only the Eastern Conference, but the entire league, however, this season they have already lost to the Ufa team. In October, the wards of Nikolai Tsulygin prevailed 3-1, but then lost twice - first in shootouts, and then in regular time.
Fans are unlikely to be bored for another reason. Both teams show effective hockey and delight fans with goals. So, the “leopards” are the leaders of the league in the number of goals scored and have in their assets 113 goals in 38 matches of the season. The performance of the “Yulaevites” is a bit more modest - 95 goals in 41 meetings.
It is all the more remarkable that their last full-time duel of the season will take place in Davos. The Green Derby has always been of particular importance both to the players of the opposing sides and to the fans, and therefore the motivation of the athletes will be at the highest level.
It is worth noting that the choice of Switzerland as the venue for KHL World Games can not be called random. This country is home to one of the oldest international hockey tournaments in history - the Spengler Cup, first organized back in 1923. Russian clubs on a regular basis played in competitions and over the past ten years have missed only two draws - in 2011 and 2017. This year the country will be represented precisely by Salavat Yulaev, who will remain in Davos after the end of the confrontation with Ak Bars.
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Moreover, the match in Europe can also be viewed through the prism of a possible expansion of the league due to collectives from the Old World. The management has always expressed interest in expanding the geography of the championship, and such events contribute to this like nothing else. After last year's World Games, several federation leaders immediately expressed interest in including local teams in the KHL. So, this was stated by the heads of German and French organizations, Franz Rindl and Luke Tardif, Sr.
As for Switzerland, rumors about the inclusion of a local team in the KHL have been going on for many years. Initially, it was said about Geneva Servette, and then it was called Zurich and Bern. There was no official information on this subject, but soon everything can change, for example, due to the arrival of Rene Fasel in the Continental Hockey League. In 2020, the Swiss will resign as president of the International Hockey Federation (IIHF) and, according to rumors, may take a position in the leadership of the championship.
It should be understood that this project is mainly aimed at fans. So, before the start and during the breaks of matches in Vienna and Zurich, a cultural program was waiting for them, which included competitions with the participation of KHL stars, as well as the opportunity to take pictures with the Gagarin Cup.