“The best time to spot the stars is when they’re young” – that’s the unwritten rule of all fans of junior hockey. And they know their stuff. At the Junior Hockey League Challenge Cup, the battle is always intense – sometimes even more so than for their senior colleagues.
The Challenge Cup, which pits the top players from the Eastern and Western Conferences against each other, began in 2010. The event has been staged in St. Petersburg, Ufa, Magnitogorsk, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Cherepovets and Nizhnekamsk. In the last three years it has been incorporated into the FONBET All-Star Week and taken place in Ufa, Astana and Tatarstan.
In that decade of action, we’ve seen several household names come to prominence for the first time with their performances at the Challenge Cup. Players like Nikita Gusev, Igor Shestyorkin, Nikita Nesterov, Viktor Antipin, Vladimir Tkachyov, Nikita Tryamkin and Roman Lyubimov each made an impact here.
In the last three years, the battle of the youngsters has become a literal springboard into adult hockey: since 2017, the top four players have been drafted into the FONBET KHL All-Star Game to get a taste of the senior showcase for themselves.
The rivalry between the conferences has been heavily tilted towards the West, which has eight wins to the East’s two. The upcoming game in Moscow on January 11 should introduce us to another crop of stars of the future. It might also give us an indication of whether the West’s dominance can ever be halted.