MHL - the future of East European hockey

MHL - the future of East European hockey

02 Dec 2011 | Roman Solovyev

Molodezhnaya Hokkejnaya Liga (MHL) or Junior Hockey League was created in 2009/10, the season after the birth of KHL. The reason of the creation was to unite all Russian junior leagues to make one strong league and begin to promote junior hockey in Russia, and save young players from retirement.

4 faces of the league
The participants of the first season became youth teams of the KHL clubs. Foreign teams hadn't their representatives in MHL, and there were two legendary teams Khimik Voskresensk and Krylia Sovetov that didn't play in KHL. The first one finished Western Conference at the bottom, and the second at the top.

One of the requirements was that the name of the team must differ from the name of main team. Two clubs found a hole in this rule and called their teams MHC Spartak and MHC Dynamo, which means Molodezhnij Hokkejniy Club (Young Hockey Club). Some teams try to be very original: there was a chance that one team can be called as Siberian Polar Foxes (this name in Russian is similar to one of the dirty world), their stopped at Siberian Snipers, but on the logo there is polar fox with a gun.

MHL marketing choose four young players before the season, to became the faces of the league. They were representatives of teams from Moscow and Moscow Area: Arseniy Kardailskiy from Mytischinskie Atlanty, Alexei Marchenko from Red Army, Alexander Avtsin from Dynamo and Alexander Khokhlachev from Spartak. Two of them were chosen at the NHL Draft 2011: Khokhlachev (40) by Boston Bruins, and Marchenko (205) by Detroit Red Wings. Marchenko still plays in Russia for CSKA, and KoKo is playing in OHL's Windsor Spitfire for the second season. Another face of the league Arseniy Kardailskiy played first season in Mytischi, than a year in VHL's Dynamo Tver', and this year he began in MHL's HC MVD Balashikha. The last one is Alexandr Avtsin, who is playing in AHL for Hamilton Bulldogs.

In the middle of the season a first Challenge Cup, analog of All-Star game, was organized, where the East faced with the West. The first lines were defined by internet-voting, but the results in fact were not the same as the fans vote.

Two Metallurgs teams from Magnitogorsk and Novokuznetsk faced each other in the MHL playoff finals. If Steel Foxes from Magnitogorsk showed a good performance during whole season and took the first place in Eastern Conference, Kuznetsk Bears got into playoff-spot at the last month of the regular season. In the first round of the play-off Kuznetsk Bears, which took an eight spot in the East, faced the winner of the West Krylia Sovetov, which doesn't play in the Russian hockey system this year. The raise of the Novokuznetsk team wouldn't have been if the main team would have played in the KHL play-off. Maxim Kitsyn, Dmitry Orlov, Sergey Bobrosvkiy helped Kuznetsk Bears to get to the finals. Steel Foxes won the final series 3:1 and became the first-time winners of Kharlamov Cup.

Year in red
7 teams, including two Belarus teams and one Latvian team, added to the number of the second season MHL participants.

The MHL management created that season a Red Star team, which played in USA with university teams.  You can imagine what can be when young professional hockey players faces students, but the official site of the league published a great variety of articles about this triumph.

This season the Red Army team repeated the story of Kuznetsk Bears in a better way. They won Kharlamov Cup, beat Steel Foxes 4:0 in the final series. Sergey Gaiduchenko, Sergey Andronov, Mikhail Pashnin, who played the whole season for CSKA, added to the Red Army and helped them to reach the trophy.

More teams, countries, integration.
The third season sees a great expansion in the regions. Lithuania, Kazakhstan, about 20 towns in Russia entered the MHL system. Since this season every VHL team has an MHL team that plays in MHL-B, except Dynamo Balashikha, Lada Togliatti, who still has their young teams in the main MHL.

Before the season there was a scandal with representative of Russian Hockey Federation from The Far East, which said that MHL forced VHL teams to join their league system, when teams didn't have enough money for this. The conflict was fixed by the president of the Russian Hockey Federation Vladislav Tretyak.

In August there was a World Cup for junior teams with winner of MHL Red Army and some European junior teams, which were not a winner of their leagues, and teams from minor American and Canadian leagues. Thanks to regulations Red Army got into the finals, where they beat Energie Karlovy Vary.

Also in season 2011/12 MHL will organize three tournaments in format of All-Star games: Challenge Cup, Cup of Future (for players Under 18), and Challenge Cup for MHL-B.

December will be important for the league, Red Stars team will face again university team of USA, and the main important tournament will Red Stars Junior play (for players Under 18) in Denmark, there they'll play against the national teams France U18 and Denmark U18.

Junior hockey for small towns
The attendance figures of the games in the leagues differ from the region, if in Moscow people don't visit games of the young teams, in towns, where there is no any other hockey teams, there is a big interest in this, for example in Vilnius (Lithuania), Bobrujsk (Belarus), Voskresensk (Russia). But it also depends on the club management; in Moscow there are no teams, which want to increase a number of fans on the stands. When they games starts at 5 PM in weekdays and 1 PM in weekend, it's difficult to attract people.

There are some talks about age of the players. Now the format of the league is U22, where only three players of elder year birth can play in one team, and there are no rules that fix the number of U18 players.

The result of MHL's work can be valued every year after Russian national team performance at both World Junior Championships in January and April. But now it's obvious that these leagues help young players to feel themselves like a whole team, to extend their hockey life, and to have an opportunity to reveal their talent, and also popularize junior hockey in Russia among fans, media.
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