Team West’s Ilya Kovalchuk, left, and Alexander Radulov before the 2013 Kontinental Hockey League All-Star Game between Team West and Team East.(RIA Novosti / Alexey Kudenko)
The Eastern Conference have won for their third All-Star Game in a row, beating the West by 18-11 in Chelyabinsk, with local boy, Evgeny Kuznetsov, netting four goals and Ilya Kovalchuk adding thee more for the winners.
It’s been a long time coming but, finally, the league’s cream of the crop headed East.
Chelyabinsk — one of Russia’s biggest industrial cities, at the foot of the Urals — had the privilege of hosting the fifth edition of the KHL All-Star Game.
The conditions outside were certainly frosty, but inside this couldn’t have been further from the truth.
The fans turning out in their thousands to see some of their favorite stars take to the ice, in the hockey mad city.
Despite the NHL finally being ‘unlocked’ and some of Russia’s biggest stars already back across the Atlantic, it was a fantastic occasion for Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk — two names, which need no introduction to any hockey fan — who realized their dream of playing an All-Star game in front of their home crowd.
Both got special permission from their respective New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings teams to appear in this game, and they were delighted to give something back.
“It’s my first time here — and I’m pretty excited. It’s not an ordinary or routine event, and the fans expect a lot,” Datsyk told RT.
It is very rare that hockey pros are able to relax when playing in front of a packed arena.
However, this is the beauty of All-Star Games — and this is why they are so loved by the players, just as much as the fans.
All Star games are high scoring affairs, and the Chelyabinsk encounter was no exception. There was no checking — and the match was more like a pre-season friendly — given that the players didn’t want to pick up any injuries with the KHL play-offs just a couple of months away.
The home crowd was firmly on the side of the East since Traktor Chelyabinsk play in the Eastern Conference.
The biggest reception was given to Mike Garnett, Deron Quint and Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is one of the brightest talents to emerge from Russia since Aleksandr Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk.
Defensemen and goaltenders rarely come out of All Star games with much credit, such was the emphasis on scoring.
“All-Star Games are always hard for goaltenders because everyone else can relax on the ice, while we still have to work,” goalkeeper Konstantin Barulin said.
However, Quint notched up a brace, but he just as everyone else was outshone by the prodigy that is Kuznetsov.
The 20-year-old leads his club in scoring in the KHL and he notched up a game high four goals.
And Garnett, whose goals against average took quite a hit in the game, was full of praise for his teammates.
With 29 goals scored in 60 minutes — it might seem difficult to choose the best of the lot.
But in the end that wasn’t too much of a problem thanks to Sibir Novosibirsk forward, Jori Lehtera.
The Finn scored an outrageous penalty shot, which completely wrong-footed the Western Conference’s net minder.
Ilya Kovalchuk had a memorable debut All-Star Game as well, netting a hat-trick. It’s almost certain that this was his final game on Russian ice for a while as he’s set to return to North America to play for the New Jersey Devils.
The East cruised to a 18-11 victory in the end, topping their Western rivals in the third All-Star Game in a row.
It was a great day for the fans, with some traveling further than others. A group from Yamal in the far north of Russia drove for over 1800km just to see their hero Konstantin Barulin, and it was certainly worth the wait for them.
This was the fifth KHL All-Star Game and the first in a city where hockey is undoubtedly the number one sport. And with every year, the event continues to go from strength to strength.
Team West and Team East players pose for a group photo after the 2013 Kontinental Hockey League All-Star Game.(RIA Novosti / Alexey Kudenko)
Team East’s Yevgeny Kuznetsov, left, against Team West’s goaltender Rastislav Stana in the 2013 Kontinental Hockey League All-Star Game.(RIA Novosti / Alexey Kudenko)
Team East’s Alexei Morozov before the 2013 Kontinental Hockey League All-Star Game between Team East and Team West.(RIA Novosti / Alexey Kudenko)