Eastern Europe’s KHL hockey league will challenge the NHL as the world's preeminent competition, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday.
The KHL was founded in 2008 with 24 teams from the former Soviet Union, and now contains 22 ex-Soviet teams, plus Lev Poprad from Slovakia.
“To a certain extent our Kontinental Hockey League is still a weak competitor to the NHL, but it’s gradually gaining momentum, and I’m confident that in time it can become real, good, healthy competition for the NHL,” Putin said.
Meeting with stars of the 1972 Russia-Canada Summit Series at his country residence outside Moscow, Putin said that the series’ success had inspired the KHL’s founders.
“The memories of this series prompted us to start up the KHL. More exactly, to give a new impulse to the development of world hockey,” he said.
He added that the Summit Series had shown that hockey needed to reach beyond national borders to retain its status as a major sport.
“When hockey was split into national ‘territories’ in North America and here in Europe, without the possibility of testing its strength in inter-continental competition, it started to lose its position compared to other sports.”
The 2011-12 KHL is reaching the end of the regular season, which was overshadowed by the death of the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl roster in an air crash while traveling to their first game of the season in September.