Jokerit in Russia – Overview of a debut season in the KHL
On the 19th March the final buzzer sounded on Jokerit’s pioneer season in the Kontinental Hockey League, following a 4-1 series [4-2 CSKA on the night] lost in the Western Conference Semi-finals to Regular season champions CSKA Moscow. The numbers show the correct team won the series and advanced to the conference finals to battle SKA St Petersburg, which should be a fantastic battle. Nonetheless, let’s return to the subject of Helsinki’s season.
“I’m really proud of these players. Jokerit had a decent first season in the KHL.”
– Jan Kurri, GM of Jokerit.
This viewpoint is rather accurate as the movement from the Liiga to the KHL was not going to be an easy task, especially coming up against teams such as SKA, CSKA and Dynamo, but the Finns were successful in this endeavour within the Western conference with a 4th placed finish and an overall 5th placed position in the entire league.
They finished the Regular Season with a record of 40-16-4 for 119 points, one shy of AK Bars Kazan who finished atop of the Eastern conference. Thus, statistically Jokerit’s league position and overall league play was superb alongside them competing towards the upper echelons of the KHL in the first season. A remarkable regular season which saw fantastic indvidiual successes.
One key success within the first season is the role played by American forward Steve Moses, who grabbed the role of goal scorer firmly with two hands. In only his third fully pro season, his natural goal scoring ability was prominent as he lead not only Jokerit in goals but also broke the KHL goal scoring record – 36G in 60 games, breaking the previous record held by Jan Matek [Metallurg Magnitogorsk 2008-09] and Marcel Hossa [Dinamo Riga 2009-10].Moses fell one point short of becoming a point-per-game player as he finished the season on 59 points [36 G and 21A]. The closest rival to his title was Barys Astana’s Nigel Dawes with 32G.
However, a primary concern for Helsinki is the potential move of Steve Moses to the National Hockey League. “His goal and his dream is to play in the NHL,” Moses’ Agent Markus Lehto has been quoted saying. This has been somewhat backed up by GM Kurri: “About Steve Moses. We don’t know yet if he’ll get an offer from the NHL. But if he does, he will surely take it,” growing a feeling of expectation in regards to losing him. These expectations have come true as Moses’ confirmed he would not return to the Finnish Capital club.
Another statistical plus for Jokerit was Defenceman Ryan Gunderson, who has been a favourite in rumours over a move to Dinamo Minsk in recent days, placing 5th in points for defenceman with 36 points in 58 games played [7G and 29A]. Strong positioning for the the Jokerit in regards to establishing players challenging the high end players who have produce within the KHL for the past seasons. This is a fantastic positive heading into the 2015-16 regular season.
Background of the move to the KHL
With this piece I believed I couldn’t write it without going over the process of the movement to the KHL following the 2013-14 SM-Liiga season. The idea came around before the 2013/14 season as the sale of Hartwall Arena to a faction of Finnish-Russian businessmen who consisted of HC SKA president Gennady Timochenko, chairman of Dynamo Moscow Arkady Rotenberg and the co-owner of HC SKA Boris Rotenberg who announced the move and sale on the 28th of June 2013. The team would, from the 2014-15 season, compete within the KHL, ending 29 seasons of competition within Finnish hockey, [27 seasons in the SM-Liiga and 2 seasons in the I-divisioona].
It would provide a substantial boost towards the resilience of the KHL following a turbulent offseason for the entirety of the league. The off season saw the withdrawal of 3 teams, predominantly due to financial troubles. All keep the intention to return, Lev Praha [Gagarin Cup finalists 2014 playoffs] with Prague a priority, Spartak Moscow – who’s intention is make a reappearance to the league in 2015-16 – and HC Donbass who originally fell out of the league due to financial problems which has since almost become obsolete following the Ukrainian war.
The boost of a new team would keep the league interesting but would also see the inclusion of an already sustainable team within the league, without the newbie team having to drum up a fanbase for the team with that already being constructed.
A potential worry was formed with the movement stemming around the excitement of the fans in regards to the new competition and difficulties this would entail. However, the fears felt by few people within ice hockey were profoundly put to bed by the fans of Helsinki. A record was created by the fans with 325,000 people attending the 30 regular season games which broke the record within Finland despite worries of a lack of excitement with freezing of the rivalry between Jokerit and HIFK.
The annual IIHF report on average attendance of European clubs highlights further positive gain for the ownership group as Helsinki successfully move up two places in the ranking to seventh place, with the added bonus of boosting the KHL’s attendance ranking up by 8.8%, improving the league to 3rd place.
In conclusion, the debut season of Helsinki within the evergrowing Kontinental Hockey League has provided various benefits within the organisation and the league. The positives within the organisation highlight that the team constructed was successful and that they have a significant platform to build upon for next season with fantastic placing and a spirited performance within the 2015 Gagarin cup.
It also proved many doubters wrong in the context of attendance and building on the support already held by Jokerit.
The goal for next season would simply be to push on from the successes of this season to better them in the 2015-16 Kontinental Hockey League season.