«Now the kids know that there’s a junior league and they will try to get there. I want to thank those people who decided to create this league. Unequivocally there will be new little stars in our country who will develop to become big stars. If such a league existed when I was just starting playing hockey, I would have definitely wanted to be there.”
This quote belongs to Alexander Ovechkin – one of the most vivid forwards of modern days and probably the future legend of world hockey. He said it on September 4th, 2009. Seven years ago. Back then in CSKA Ice Sports Palace a very important event took place – the very first game of newly formed Molodyozhnaya Hokkeynaya Liga. Future Washington Capitals captain wasn’t just an honorary guest at the game but he was also one of the commentators. MHC Dynamo Moscow faced Krasnaya Armiya Moscow in that rivalry game and they put the wheels of history in motion.
Seven years later the NHL superstar is unlikely to take his words back. Hundreds of beautiful games, dozens of promised young stars were lit on just on Russian but international arenas and developed into true stars, six Molodyozhnaya Hokkeynaya Liga champions, six Junior Club World Cups, hundreds of thousands of happy fans… And this is just the beginning.
Molodyozhnaya Hokkeynaya Liga set the bar pretty high right off the bat. The first game in MHL history was attended by KHL and Russian Ice Hockey Federation management, 3-time Olympic champion Alexander Karelin participated in the ceremonial puckdrop, while commentating team of Alexander Tkachyov and Sergei Gimayev was joined by the then most valuable NHL player of the season Alexander Ovechkin. Young Dynamo junior hockey school alumni didn’t let Ovechkin down and enjoyed a solid 6-2 win over Krasnaya Armiya. The first goal in league’s history was scored by the blue-and-white forward Roman Vasiliev, who sent the puck bardown with a wrister past goaltender Anton Todykov. Incidentally, the game was officiated by the now head-referee of the Kontinental Hockey League Alexei Anisimov.
Even back then both teams had quite a few players who already play well for the clubs and national Team Russia. For example, Krasnaya Armiya’s roster featured Alexei Marchenko, Igor Ozhiganov, Roman Lyubimov, Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Gusev. As for Dynamo, they had Nikita Dvurechensky, Alexander Sharychenkov, Alexander Avtsin and others.
«MHL championship hasn’t even started yet and we’re already discussion expansion possibilities,” said 2-time Olympic champion Vyacheslav Fetisov before the puck dropped at the first official game.
«Podolsk wants to join MHL. Teams for Orenburg, Tyumen and Ugra are in the line. Countries who have teams representing them in the KHL – Kazakhstan, Belarus and Latvia – are also interested,” said MHL board chairman Alexander Medvedev.
Orenburg, Tyumen and Khanty-Mansiysk already have teams in Molodyozhnya Hokkeynaya Liga. Same goes for Snezhnye Barsy from Astana, Kazakhstan and HK Riga from Riga, Latvia. And the league continues to expand. This year Taifun from Russia’s Far East, Sputnik Almetyevsk, Altay Ust-Kamenogorsk joined the team and so did Krylia Sovetov Moscow, whose return was long-awaited.
This September 4th MHL 8th season kicked off in Yaroslavl. Just like seven years ago, this was also a rivalry game – Loko Yaroslavl faced Chayka Nizhny Novgorod. This hasn’t become a legendary rivalry yet but it’s difficult to find better rivals in the MHL than these two in the past few years. It was no other but Chayka Nizhny Novgorod who eliminated Loko from the playoffs and went on to win the championship title. And this past spring Loko beat Chayka in the Kharlamov Cup Finals to clinch their first ever MHL championship title. This time around, just like seven years ago, it was the visiting team who walked away with a win as Chayka beat Loko in the shootout.
We’ve got another 7-month long hockey marathon ahead of us and at its end we will know the name of 8th Kharlamov Cup Playoffs champion. Alexander Ovechkin proved to be true. And it’s understandable – who doesn’t want to become the next Ovechkin?