One of the best and biggest ice hockey leagues in the world is exploring the possibility of an English franchise as part of its ambitious plans to spread into new far-flung locations.
The Kontinental Hockey League, second only to North America’s National Hockey League in terms of quality and prestige, has begun talks with potential owners of an English franchise in the next stage of its worldwide expansion programme.
The KHL is based in Russia but also includes teams from countries such as Finland, Latvia and as far field as China as it has grown to attract six million spectators per season.
Action from the Kontinental Hockey League clash between Ufa and Dynamo Moscow
The popular and prestigious KHL is looking at expansion options – including in England
Now it is looking at several possible locations for growth including Paris, Seoul and excitingly, for the domestic game, two possible locations in England.
KHL president Dimitry Chernysenko is the man behind Russia’s hugely successful Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014 and for the last five years has been charged with strengthening the KHL into a league capable of attracting more of the world’s best players.
Those players are still predominantly Russian where the best players now do not necessarily have to locate to north America to chase their dream but the influx of foreign talent extended last week to a recently Stanley Cup winner in Washington’s Devante Smith-Pelly. The Canadian has joined Beijing’s Kunlun Red Star.
Most of the league’s teams are presently based in Russia with five other nations involved
Sochi goaltender Ivan Nalimov in action against Kunlun Red Star Beijing over the weekend
The growth in quality has co-incided with a concentrated attempt at providing better facilities and a more attractive fan experience for KHL supporters, with the CKA club in St Petersburg planning to build a new arena which, at 24,000 capacity, would be one of the biggest indoor sporting venues in the world.
Now that progress could extend to England. ‘We are very interested in the possibility and I have been to England to talk to two possible franchises,’ Chernysenko told Sportsmail.
‘It is an attractive location and a KHL club there would be an exciting option.
‘I wouldn’t like to put a time frame on it because we have to make absolutely sure we go with the right people. We would want them to be in this for the long-haul and I have to make sure they can make that commitment. But I am optimistic it can happen.’
Sportsmail’s Paul Newman spoke to KHL president Dimitry Chernysenko
Fans of Dynamo Moscow support their team during a weekend KHL game with Salavat Yulayev
Sportsmail understands the two interested parties the KHL have had discussions with are a consortium keen to develop a new indoor arena complex based in Reading and another looking at renting in the prime location London, with the Wembley Arena, home to the old Lions in the halcyon days of the sport in Britain, being the preferred option.
The news comes at something of a boom time for British ice hockey with the Elite League flourishing and the Great Britain side now competing at the highest level of the world championships alongside the world’s best like Russia and Canada.
There was also huge interest when former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech made his professional ice hockey debut in goal for his local side Guildford Phoenix earlier this season and topped it by winning a penalty shots shoot-out.
A KHL side, complete with two or three of Britain’s best players like goalminder Ben Bowns of Cardiff and Sheffield defenceman Ben O’Connor, would be a significant development into improving its growing profile here.
The players of SKA St Petersburg enter the ice ahead of a recent game with Dinamo Riga