Today I talk the participation of Metallurg Magnitogorsk at the IIHF European Hockey League back in the 1990s. Also looking at the disagreement between the Champions Hockey League and the KHL after 2014.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk Is the European Champion

Below I am quoting the words of Alexei Mishukov who has been working for Metallurg Magnitogorsk since 1990. He talks about Magnitka’s participation at the top European competition at the time.

Magnitka was promoted to the elite Russian (Soviet) championship for the first time in the club’s history in 1992. At the time, all elite Soviet clubs were located in Moscow or close to the capital. Metallurg Magnitogorsk became the first Russian hockey champion from the Ural region in 1998-99. Just reminding you that Ak Bars Kazan, Salavat Yulaev Ufa, and Magnitka have established themselves as the Russian elite clubs in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Meanwhile, the Russian Federation survived its worst modern years in the late 1990s when the national economy crashed in 1998. Perhaps that might be among reasons why the European clubs considered Metallurg Magnitogorsk as a club with lower hockey status, and even from Asia!

As the story says Magnitka played the IIHF European Hockey League in 1998-99. The club even won the competition after the final win over Dynamo Moscow. Magnitka faced Sparta Praha, Grenoble Métropole & HC Fribourg-Gottéron in the group stage while eliminating Ak Bars Kazan, Ilves Tampere, HIFK Helsinki & Eisbären Berlin in later rounds.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk defended its title next year (1999-2000) when beating the Czech club Sparta Praha in the final game (2-0). And it was the final edition of the IIHF European Hockey League.

Highlights of the IIHF European Hockey League Final 1998-99 (Russian announcer)

How Magnitka Played Hockey in Grenoble…

“Magnitka has always been one of the most distanced top teams from the [hockey] centre [meaning far from Moscow]. Moreover, they tried to exclude us [Metallurg Magnitogorsk] from participating in the IIHF European Hockey League in the late 1990s with the argument that our club is allegedly located in Asia! So, we had to prove to them that the Ural River is considered as the border between Europe & Asia while our Romazan Stadium is located on the European side. These Europeans came to us with “the style” & talking all the time about what is wrong with our stadium & infrastructure.

So, when we came to the French city of Grenoble while wanting to start our morning skate, then we saw … the centre ice is all with iron racks/struts. So we asked “how can we skate here?” while getting the reply, “we are making the ice advertisement, we did not have any other time to do it.” Then just fine, but we requested at least to turn the lights on. Again, it is not possible because the stadium is owned by the municipality, so the permission from the city mayor is required. And, they can not call him before 10 a.m. but our morning skate should start at 9 a.m. So, my question is who had better hockey infrastructure at the time, they [Europeans] or our club?”.

Alexei Mishukov

Metallurg Magnitogorsk Press-Attache with 30 years experience with the club 

Would Fans Welcome the Super Six Comeback?

It is heartbreaking that such a competition is missing in modern European hockey. We just have two separate conceptions represented by the Champions Hockey League and the KHL. We are hearing how the CHL would like to incorporate the KHL into their conception, which is pure fantasy. The CHL is not in a position to demand it.

Of course, the KHL would welcome competition with the European clubs. But the KHLs Alexei Morozov prefers a one-week tournament with reigning champions from the leading European leagues or top CHL sides. The city of Saint Petersburg hosted such an event from 2005 to 2008. Its name was the IIHF European Champions Cup (also known as the Super Six). So, take it or leave it because the KHLs offer will not be on the table forever.

Besides the uncertain financial rewards for the KHL clubs, the league has the scheduling conflict too. Simply the KHL can not submit their regular-season schedule under the CHL demands because a few KHL clubs participating in the competition. Moreover, the KHL has to make such pauses for the European Hockey Tour tournaments now. So expecting even more breaks is unrealistic. And Europeans should accept it.

Just reminding you of the KHL’s position from the early 2010s when the league voiced their vision of reforming the IIHF international calendar. So, relocating the IIHF World Championship to other (later) dates or February. The KHL proposed a more complex model at the 2012 Hockey Forum in Barcelona, Spain. According to the model, the IIHF would create an international hockey break in February. The IIHF World Championship, the Winter Olympic Games, the NHL World Cup would be played at that time of the year, while May would be free for leagues.

The 2007 IIHF European Champions Cup Final – Ak Bars Kazan vs HPK Hämeenlinna 6:0 (Full Game in Russian)

The KHL Scheduling and the IIHF Worlds

The KHL has always had a big problem with scheduling because the league is much bigger than the remaining European leagues. The league plays more regular-season games in total & more play-off rounds than other European leagues. But the KHL has to finish their play-off before the IIHF Worlds, so late April. That meaning the KHL regular-season has to finish in late February because the Gagarin Cup play-off needs to be accommodated into two or two and a half months. Of course, the European leagues do not have such a problem because their regular-season & play-off are shorter. And the NHL does not even respect the IIHF international schedule.

The KHL would need two or three extra weeks to accommodate its scheduling, so prolonging their regular-season by two or three weeks into mid-March. Of course, the play-off does not need any further prolongation, it always takes the same time.

Back in time, the KHL’s proposal was declined. Guessing it was a too radical move for mainly European conservative hockey officials. Now, when the NHL considers starting their 2020-21 regular-season as early as January, meaning the NHL players would not represent their countries at the IIHF World Championship (early May) due to being busy with NHL season. And the European leagues expected the problems with the 2020-21 season due to coronavirus. So wanted to make more available dates for rescheduling of their seasons. Then these hockey officials supported the IIHF’s proposal of postponing the 2021 IIHF World Championship into late May. As Fasel says, “we decided to postpone the 2021 IIHF World Championship due to tirelessly demand by national leagues, especially European national leagues. They demanded us to start the event as late as possible.” Good to hear. How many seasons will it last?

Featured Image Credit: (Photo by Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images)

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I support European club hockey and I want European hockey to be as strong as possible. European hockey fans have witnessed too many attempts to launch a cross-border competition. I have been following hockey all my life and I have had the same question. Why is there not a hockey version of the UEFA Champions League? Or a European version of the NHL? 2008 was a year when a version of both, was launched. As a fan, I started to follow both leagues although it was not cool to follow the KHL at the time. Furthermore, it was a bit complicated to get the first-hand information about the KHL, the media did not cover the league as deeply as I would want. Based on my experience with the KHL & other European club hockey competitions I would like to write about the most important on and off-ice, issues of European club hockey.