Gdansk Aspire Should Inspire
The question of when and if the KHL would come to UK shores has never gone away and ever since the KHL raised their ambition for a 64 team league it has been heightened further. Now latest stage in the development of that plan seems to be in Poland and the northeastern industrial city of Gdansk.
Energa Stocziowiec Gdansk has applied to join the KHL and has plans to ice junior teams in the VHL and MHL development leagues as well. The most interesting part of the plan is that Gdansk hopes to become a centre for Polish ice hockey by using Polish skaters to play in the Russian system and ultimately into the national side.
It is a plan that should prick the ears of Ice Hockey UK. Following the national teamâ€™s trip to Riga for the Olympic qualification it is clear that the side would benefit from increased experience against teams and players of a higher standard than is currently available domestically.
It is of course not a new idea. In the past a Great Britain junior side has played in the EPL but the idea was been scrapped due to availability of players and high running costs. However if a similar plan to the Gdansk one could be implemented both of those issues could be overcome. The side would have a fan base as they would represent a city against other non UK cities and a base in which to do it meaning they would get gate receipts and other sources of income. The ownership and the senior KHL side could then supplement this income to make up the shortfall. Also as that side would not be a representative side other import players could be brought in.
This is a future that may not be far off. A leading agent noted that the KHL is very interested in entering the UK market. This is likely to be similar to what has happened in Milan where a Russian based corporation and the league combine to set up a franchise and have the money to back that. In the UKâ€™s case there are already a handful arenas and cities with the right infrastructure to meet the KHL standard.
In return the former eastern bloc development structure is already proving to work. Britainâ€™s Ben Oâ€™Connor is an example of that. Oâ€™Connor was a standout performer against Kazakhstan. When his national team line mates where looking perhaps a little tired Oâ€™Connor was still on top of his game and this is thanks in part to his 3 seasons featuring with Kazakh based outfit Arlan Kokshetau.
With all this in mind IHUK should be looking closely when the KHL committee visit Gdansk and should that venture prove a success look at ways in which it could assist in the creation of the first UK pan continental hockey league franchise. After all it would be a major boost for the game in the UK and the national team in their attempt to make the Olympics and the World Championships proper.