MOSCOW, December 9 (R-Sport) - The International Ice Hockey Federation announced a new European Champions League competition Monday but its roster of clubs has some major absentees - the teams from the continent’s biggest league, the KHL.
There has been no Europe-wide elite hockey competition since the most recent effort, the Champions Hockey League, collapsed in 2009 after just one season.
The new Champions Hockey League will feature 40 teams when it starts play in August 2014, of which 26 will be shareholders with guaranteed entry into the tournament.
There will be no representation for the Russia-based KHL, which boasts 28 team from eight countries and is widely seen as the world’s second strongest league behind the NHL. Russian teams have traditionally dominated European hockey competitions.
“We had some discussions with the KHL. They didn’t want to join because of different reasons,” IIHF president Rene Fazel told R-Sport.
He added that one major stumbling block was the issue of Jokerit, a Finnish club that will join the KHL next season in the face of heated opposition from the Finnish league.
“For sure they wanted to have Jokerit participating in the Champions Hockey League and that was refused by the board and that was one of the reasons why they didn’t want to participate,” he said. “The Finns, they were not in favor of that, and there was a huge discussion about this and in the end the KHL decided to say no.”
Fazel said he had personally had no objections to the KHL or Jokerit participating in the Champions Hockey League, but that the IIHF had been overruled because it only owns 12 percent of the shares in the new venture.
However, KHL president Alexander Medvedev expressed frustration at the decision to exclude his league's teams, which he said "prompts surprise."
"We showed we were flexible and prepared to reach a compromise with our colleagues at the IIHF and to alter our championship schedule to keep the dates free that were specified for the Champions League," he said in a website statement.
As for Jokerit, he added: "This club will become a full member of the KHL next season, so there are no formal obstacles to it representing our league in the new IIHF competition."
The manner in which Jokerit's impending switch to the KHL came about has caused anger among some Finnish hockey fans. A company headed by Russian billionaire oligarch Boris Rotenberg bought a 49 percent stake in the team and full ownership of its Hartwall Arena, before masterminding its switch out of Finland's SM-Liiga.
Jokerit will be the first time the KHL has crossed the old Iron Curtain - all of its current teams come from countries that were once Communist.
The 26 teams guaranteed entry to the Champions Hockey League come from Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. The draw will be made December 20 in Berlin.
Clubs own 63 percent of the tournament's holding company, with 25 percent held by various national leagues and 12 percent by the IIHF.
The original European Cup ran for 32 years between 1965 and 1997, since which time there have been three short-lived attempts to revive the competition in various forms.
The only current Europe-wide tournament is the IIHF Continental Cup, a tournament for teams from lesser hockey nations including Belarus, France and Britain.
Founding clubs for the Champions Hockey League:
Austria: EC Red Bull Salzburg, UPC Vienna Capitals.
Czech Republic: HC Bili Tygri Liberec, HC Pardubice, HC Sparta Prague, HC Vitkovice Ostrava.
Finland: IFK Helsinki, JYP Jyvaskyla, KalPa Kuopio, Karpat Oulu, Tappara Tampere, TPS Turku.
Germany: Adler Mannheim, Eisbären Berlin, ERC Ingolstadt, Krefeld Pinguine.
Switzerland: SC Bern, Fribourg-Gottéron, ZSC Lions Zurich, EV Zug.
Sweden: Djurgarden Stockholm, Frolunda Gothenburg, Farjestad Karlstad, HV71 Jonkoping, Linkopings HC, Lulea Hockey.