Sport-Express and MHL.KHL.RU writer Mikhail Skryl explains why hockey fans should make sure to follow the West vs. East game in Tula on December 3.
All-Star Games are mainly associated with a great show, festive atmosphere and fun. Fans remember spectacular shootout attempts, skills competition events, while the results of the games themselves fade into the background. It so happens that emotions at such events have priority over the result. In the JHL the approach is totally different. The best players of the League meet on the ice to compete for the Challenge Cup.
The Challenge Cup format differs from that of the Fonbet KHL All-Star Game. In the JHL, players are divided into two teams - West and East. The game is played in accordance with classic rules: three 20-minute periods, with penalties, overtime and shootout if the game is tied at the end of regulation time. There is no doing things half-way or playing too fancy: every year best representatives of their conferences work flat out to decide on who is stronger. For players, this game is not only about seeing old friends and making new acquaintances, but also about competing for a prestigious trophy, the name of which appeared for a good reason. The game is a real challenge for any JHLer: to test themselves facing best players from the other conference.
Intensity of emotions and desire to win do not mean that Tula will see a game when teams sit back on heels and create few chances. As a rule, Challenge Cup games do not end with a few goals. In 2022, in Chelyabinsk, Team East beat Team West 5-2. And head coaches Stanislav Shumik, Vitaly Chernochub and Lev Berdichevsky were so happy to get the win that they danced in the locker room. The Omsk head coach is to step behind the bench for Team East again this year. Shall we expect Chernochub to repeat the performance in Tula?
The Challenge Cup average is 6.25 goals per game. After 12 games played, Team West leads 8-4. Of course, Team East is determined to improve their statistics. In the KHL, one won’t even recall how many wins any of the divisions got at the All-Star Game. In the JHL, everything is different, just read some interviews with players and coaches. Everyone talks high motivation and a desire to prove that their conference is stronger.
The format of the OLIMPBET Junior Hockey League season involves inter-conference rivalry, teams from the East and West will cross paths only in the Kharlamov Cup semi-finals. Let’s say, Krasnaya Armiya fans, for instance, can know the stars of the other conference superficially. While there is quiet a number of players in the East who are worth following. Kozlov Andrei and Ilya Kvochko, the leaders of Stalnye Lisy who are on Metallurg coaching staff’s notice, are to hit the ice in Tula. The Malov brothers Denis and Vyacheslav made it all the way to the Kharlamov Cup final with Omskie Yastreby this spring, and now frequently receive call-ups to the VHL team. Vladimir Mikhalyov from Sibirskie Snaipery makes strong first impression in the KHL – two goals in three games. And what kind of goals! Both times it was a result of excellent performance and winning one-on-one battles.
In the 2023/24 season, the JHL has changed the procedure for selecting players for the Challenge Cup. Coaches were given the opportunity to pick up to three representatives from any team. Some players have already been moving up the tiers and play some games in the VHL or KHL, but are still eligible for the junior league. Therefore, Tula will see a true festival featuring the best of the best. A real All-Star Game, but under the Challenge Cup banner. As for the West, we are following goalie Sergei Murashov, who was recognized as the best netminder of the 2022/23 season. Among the main stars of the team are the JHL’s top scorer Emil Pyanov from Almaz, Dynamo player Igor Chernyshov and Krasnaya Armiya defenseman Matvei Shuravin, who already receive call-ups to KHL teams.
Another thing is to be kept in mind. Four Challenge Cup players will get an opportunity to participate in the KHL Skills competition and All-Star Game which will be held on December 9 and 10 in St. Petersburg. Prove yourself in Tula and extend your week with the stars for a couple more days. It is symbolic that some Challenge Cup participants can play with KHLers even before making their debut in an official KHL game. Great motivating factor! So, mark December 3 on your calendar and keep an eye on the Challenge Cup in Tula. Missing such games with intricately woven plots is inadvisable.