The Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League started play on Sept. 2 with a game in Moscow between Red Army Moscow (CSKA) and Ak Bars Kazan. The KHL is running a full regular season this year, extending into February. The Russian Federation and most other states with teams represented in the KHL have handled the spread and containment of COVID-19, so unlike North American sports leagues, there are fans in the stands. The opening day game at CSKA arena had about half of the 12,000 seats with fans in them. You can buy tickets to any arena in the KHL and see an ice hockey game in person, something unthinkable to many of us right now.
The week before the regular season play started, the league’s four Moscow based teams took to the ice for the Moscow City Mayor’s Cup. The Mayor’s Cup has been a regular preseason tournament featuring Red Army Moscow, Vityaz Podolsk, Dinamo Moscow and Spartak Moscow. Vityaz is the first team based outside of Moscow to compete in this tournament, as the team is based in Podolsk, a suburb of Moscow. This tournament presented interesting challenges for the teams, as all four had bouts of COVID-19 spread through their ranks during preseason training. CSKA went into the tournament with no preseason games nor training camps. Sergey Sobyanin, mayor of Moscow City, spoke about the irregularity of the situation during his opening ceremony speech.
“Probably, many of us did not expect that we would start this hockey season this way. Everybody was afraid that the pandemic would prevent us from doing it, prevent the athletes, the fans, but we have overcome the problem, we have conquered the pandemic.”
After a few days of play, Vityaz Podolsk came out on top with an undefeated run to the Mayor’s Cup. Vityaz faced all three teams in the tournament, with two of the games ending in overtime. The secret of the team’s success was the starting goaltender for Vityaz, Ilya Yezhov, and their star forward, Canadian Justin Danfourth. Danfouth led the team in scoring, participating with four goals scored by the team in their final game. The tournament technically finished with the end of regular time as per tournament rules, but the team still drove home the point of their success with an overtime goal scored by Danfourth.
The start of the Kontinental Hockey League’s season gives us an interesting insight into what an eventual return to play with fans might look like. With the pandemic spread contained much better in Europe, fans have been allowed in the stands much sooner than expected. Perhaps if things in New England remain the way they are, we can have a similar return to play when Hockey East allows teams to take the ice.