ZURICH Ė The expansion of the Russian Kontinental Hockey League to new territories has been of mixed success since the leagueís founding in 2008. Apart from teams from five countries that were together in the old Soviet league, the KHL now also involves the Czech Republic (as of 2012) and Slovakia (since 2011).
However, other potential expansion projects have not flourished. Attempts in the former eastern bloc like in Lithuania or in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv failed, as did the inclusion of a team from Milan, Italy, that was originally announced for the upcoming season. As well, the luring of several established European clubs in countries such as Finland, Germany or Sweden have not gained momentum.
However, in the KHLís junior league, the Molodezhnaya Khokkeinaya Liga (MHL), the expansion to new territories goes on at a faster pace and also involves areas one can call developing hockey nations.
Last season, the MHL included 32 teams (KHL: 23) and an additional 19 teams in its second tier, the MHL-B.
The two junior leagues have a wider representation of Russian cities, but also foreign ones. It included three Latvian teams last season (two in the MHL-B) and even four for the upcoming one. Kazakhstan is not only represented by Barys Astanaís junior team, but also a junior team from Karaganda in the MHL-B. Belarusí KHL team Dynamo Minsk has a team playing in Bobruisk while local rival Yunost Minsk also has a youth team in the MHL.
The league included a Slovak team last season and even one from Lithuania, Baltica Vilnius in the MHL-B.
When the 2011/2012 season ended, some new entries were approved with Energie Karlovy Vary from the Czech Republic in the MHL and six Russian small-town teams for the MHL-B.
Last week the MHL again admitted seven more new teams to play in its leagues, mostly for the MHL-B. Three of the teams come from abroad: Liepajas Metalurgs from Latvia will send its junior team to Russia, but the two other new foreign entries came as a bigger surprise: Patriot from Hungary and Platina from Moldova.
While professional hockey is nothing new to Hungary, which played in the Top Division at the 2009 IIHF World Championship in Switzerland, itís a different story for the other new MHL country, Moldova.
After Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine, Moldova becomes the seventh former Soviet country with a team in the KHL system. The country became an IIHF member nation only four years ago.
Platina was founded two years ago in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau to have an U18 team play in neighbouring country Romania, with which it shares a similar language.
The team that will play in the MHL-B is entered as Platina Tiraspol. Tiraspol, about an hour away from Chisinau by car, has the countryís only international-size ice rink. The second-biggest Moldovan city is mostly populated by ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, and itís the capital of Transnistria, an internationally unrecognized breakaway territory.
The Hungarian entry Patriot Budapest is a newly founded club with Czech and Slovak owners that came into existence this month and assembled 29 players including five goalkeepers for the first practice in the Hungarian capital. Out of these players, however, only five are from Hungary: goalkeeper Adam Vay, and forwards Adam Fekti, Marton Hardi, Richard Hardi and Benjamin Nemes.
The team will be coached by Czech Petr Novak assisted by Igor Toth, and it hopes to be part of the top-tier MHL, although the final composition of the two leagues and its divisions have yet to be announced.
While Hungary will soon have top-level junior club representation, the Division I nation might also have its first KHL player soon as Istvan Sofron went to Lev Prague for a try-out.
The 24-year-old winger made his mark with the Hungarian national team in the last few years at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I. Last season he also became the top goal scorer of the Austrian league with Hungarian team Fehervar AV19. In 56 games he notched 59 points (34+25).