The Asia League will go into its 15th season with eight teams from three countries but for the first time since 2004 without a team from China, which will have four men’s teams in the Russian hockey system instead.
The upcoming Asia League season includes the four Japanese teams Oji Eagles Tomakomai, Nippon Paper Cranes Kushiro, Nikko IceBucks and Tohoku Free Blades based in Hachinohe, the three Korean teams Anyang Halla, High1 Goyang and Daemyung Killer Whales Incheon as well as PSK Sakhalin, which plays in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on the Russian island of Sakhalin.
The eight-team Asia League will open the season on 2nd September with 112 games in the regular season. The best five teams will make the playoffs with a best-of-three round between teams ranked fourth and fifth followed by the best-of-five semi-finals and finals.
The season was shortened due to the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang 2018 that includes the Korean men’s national team. No league games will be played in January and February but it is planned to establish a cup competition during the break before the start of the playoffs in March.
Among the newly signed players in the league is former St. Louis Blues and Team USA goaltender Jason Bacashihua, who will play for Korean team High1.
China is a prominent absentee in the Asia League’s upcoming season. One year after the league’s launch in 2003/2004 with four Japanese and one Korean team, clubs from Harbin and Qiqihar joined the Asia League but finished the seasons on bottom of the standings and merged in 2007. The China Dragon also finished in last place each season (except 2008/2009) and now disappears from the Asia League map.
China has recently put its focus to Russia instead of its Far East neighbours. Kunlun Red Star, which will play its home games in Shanghai in the upcoming season and hired Mike Keenan as new head coach, joined Russia’s top league KHL last season with players mostly from Europe and North America and made the playoffs.
In the upcoming season two new Chinese teams will play in the second-tier Russian league VHL. Kunlun Red Star Heilongjiang based in the northern city of Harbin will include many players from last season’s China Dragon squad as well as foreign reinforcement and will serve as the farm team. Additionally, a new team named Qien Tou will be created in Jilin City for the upcoming season to play in the league. And for the 2018/2019 season the Silk Road Cup will be launched with teams from the VHL, China, Korea and Japan.
Another new team will be the Kunlun Red Star Juniors, which will compete in the top Russian junior league MHL and be based in Beijing. The team is currently having its first camp in the Latvian resort town of Jurmala. As earlier announced, the organization will also have two new women’s teams
including one based in Shenzhen that will compete in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.