PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 13: Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux drops the ceremonial puck between Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals to honor the Russian KHL plane that crashed before the game at Consol Energy Center on October 13, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
So we've hit yet another NHL lockout. I was only 14 years old during the last one, and not yet a hardcore hockey nut, so I was easily distracted by other things during that time. However, now that I am older and much more of a diehard Canucks fan, I am already starting to find myself missing hockey. Sure, I may have the WHL's Victoria Royals right here in town (the same league as the already-promoted Vancouver Giants), but watching younger kids play isn't quite the same as the NHL. I could watch the AHL more closely, the Chicago Wolves in particular, but they don't start their regular season until October. What is a girl to do? How will we diehard hockey fans last if we're already desperate for hockey?
Thankfully, there is a solution: KHL hockey. The Kontinental Hockey League, with most of their teams based in Russia, has already started their regular season games. The KHL is not only probably the NHL's closest international rival league, but has already been home to many of the NHL's superstar players. Their teams do take on some international players as well, many of them being former NHL players, and they've been allowed to sign on locked-out NHL players for the length of the work stoppage. Why not watch them?
For the NHL, it's easy enough to keep an eye on all teams in play, since watching live hockey games usually only takes up 6 hours at the most each day (two 7pm starts, one ET and one PT). However, the country of Russia spans over 9 time zones (Moscow itself is 11 hours ahead of Vancouver), so following a full day of action is much more difficult. It's a much better idea to pick a single team to follow. The question is, which team? Looking around at rosters and such, the teams listed below have former and current NHL players that I think will get the interest of a few NHL fans.
Former NHL players you might recognize: (Looked through the list, didn't recognize a single name. Perhaps you guys have better luck than me.)
Current NHL players signed on through lockout: Alex Ovechkin
Quick chat about the team: To be honest, the only reason Dynamo was on my list in the first place is because I knew this was Ovie's home team, and that he would more than likely head back there for an NHL lockout. However, further investigation shows that this team is the reigning KHL champions. They are 9th in the league right now with 6 games played. Forward Richard Gynge currently leads the team in goals, while defenceman Janne Jalasvaara leads in assists, but these could easily change when Ovie finds his groove.
HC CSKA Moscow
Quick chat about the team: I have already had several people ask me why on earth I would follow the "Red Army team". My main answer for this is two young players: Sergei Shirokov and Nikita Filatov. Both were young NHL draftees that caught my eye. (I'm a girl, let me indulge.) Neither player fit with their team, and so they both returned to Russia. When looking at CSKA's roster last year, I noticed that they were both on the same team! Sure, Nikita may have moved on to Salavat Yuleav Ufa, but Shirokov is still in Moscow. Now that Sergei may soon play alongside Datsyuk and Bryzgalov, this is the team I'm choosing to follow. They are currently ranked 7th in the league with 6 games played. The Radulov brothers currently lead the team in points, with 6 for Igor and 5 for Alexander. Shirokov is 3rd for players in points, however he is currently injured, which is bad news for me.
Former NHL players you might recognize: Mats Zuccarello, Cal O'Reilly
Quick chat about the team: Okay, this team's big claim to fame is Malkin. Heck, even on the city's Wikipedia page, he and Kulemin are both mentioned as town natives and as the team's NHL alumni. They have only played 4 games so far, putting them 19th in league, but that will change as they catch up on games with Malkin on their side. Goaltender Ari Ahonen has a 1.33 GAA after 3 games, while Cal O'Reilly leads the team in points with 4 assists. Mats Zuccarello is currently on their injury list.
SKA St Petersburg
Quick chat about the team: St. Petersburg wasn't originally on the list of teams I was looking at closely, but then this article on the KHL website about the Russian boys coming home really caught my attention. Not only did Kovy pick this team instead of returning to Spartak Moscow, the team he played for before his NHL career, but SKA also immediately gave him the captaincy of the team. They may only be 11th in league with 6 games played right now, but don't let that fool you: Gleb Klimenko leads the league in goals with 6, while Patrick Thoreson's 10 points give him 2nd in the league.
Current NHL players signed on through lockout: Semyon Varlamov
Quick chat about the team: We all know that last year's terrible tragedy has made this a team to focus on. One report states that one of the sanctions made to get this team back into the KHL was to let them push that 3 non-Russian player limit, which would explain how they can have 5 non-Russians in that list above. They are 15th in league with 5 games played, and Kronwall currently shares the league lead in points for a defenceman. Sanford is currently injured, so expect Varlamov to quickly hop in net over there.
Well, those are the teams that caught my attention. There are currently 26 teams in the KHL, so there's plenty others to choose from as well. The KHL website is indeed available in English (thank goodness), and it has lots of information for you there. They also have a Youtube channel* with constant updates, although the Russian language definitely takes over there. If there's enough people asking for it, I might even add the occasional KHL updates on here during the lockout.
*h/t to Adam Nowek for the link.