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Is Russian hockey on the verge of civil war?

Russian sports minister Vyacheslav Fetisov made one more leap forward to the launch of a new hockey league.

The 27th of October 2005 has a genuine chance to get into the hockey history books in Russia. On this rainy Thursday evening in Moscow several owners and managerial representratives of Russian Super League (RSL) teams signed a Declaration of European-Asian Hockey League (EAHL) creation. This Declaration had already been proposed by the Head of the Russian Federation agency of physical culture and sport (Ministry of Sports) Vyacheslav Fetisov.

As Russian Information Agency “Novosti” reported on Thursday, the Declaration was signed by the general managers of Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Avangard Omsk, CSKA Moskva, Spartak Moskva, Severstal Cherepovets, SKA St.Petersburg, Khimik Moscow Region, HC MVD Tver, Molot-Prikamie Perm and the Minister of Tatarstan Republic, which is part of Russian Federation, Marat Bariev. (There are two teams from Tatarstan in RSL – Ak Bars Kazan and Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk).

As it stands now, Dynamo Moskva, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, Lada Togliatti, Metallurg Novokuznetsk, Vityaz Chekhov, Sibir Novosibirsk and Salavat Yulayev Ufa declined to sign this Declaration.

The launch of EAHL is planned for next autumn. There will be nine Russian teams participating in the inaugural season as well as three teams from ex-USSR countries – Ukrainian Sokol Kiev, Belarus Keramin Minsk and Kazakhstan Kazzinc-Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk. The EAHL plans to expand in its second season when 16 teams are to be in the league. Most likely the additions come from two Russian teams, one team from Latvia and two teams from Eastern Europe region.

In its third season EAHL is going to consist of 20 teams. The EAHL will have draft system like the NHL has.

Fetisov’s plan of launching a new league on Russian territory is no doubt another brick in the wall of his long and inveterate feud with the president of the Russian hockey federation Alexandr Steblin. The day before Fetisov released his plan to the RSL teams, Steblin had pointed out that the organization of Russian hockey championship is his Federation’s privilidge.

In an interview to the same news agency 'Novosti', Steblin’s right hand – RHL vice-president Vladimir Shalayev called the idea of new multinational league in Eastern Europe “noteworthy” but “populistic” for the moment. According to him it is totally unrealistic to invite teams not coming from the former Soviet Union to this league.

Moreover two days before the Declaration signing, IIHF President Rene Fasel, who happened to be in Moscow at that time, gave his say on the subject. He called the idea untimely because of big economical differences between the countries as well as the difference of playing level.

Fasel also underlined that a new league shouldn’t go out of control of the European hockey federations. That will surely be a thing Fetisov will never agree to – NHL rules on the territory where Hockey Canada and Hockey USA exist and all of them solving quite different problems.

Right now it’s hard to predict what will be the fate of this ‘project’: Is the EAHL a newborn child who will someday grow up to become a competitor for the NHL? Or will it repeat the disastrous project of second edition of the WHA, which was re-installed with a lot of media attention but in the end never saw the light? Time will tell.

Sergei Berestoff

Story added on 27th October 2005 at 20:48 GMT
Story submitted by: Joeri Loonen.

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