The Kontinental Hockey League will add a team based in Sochi for next season, a boost to legacy plans for the 2014 Olympic host city.
The club will likely play in either the Bolshoy Ice Dome or Shayba Arena, the two hockey venues located in the Olympic Park, making it the first sports team to be based in an arena used at the Sochi Olympics.
The KHL is widely considered to be the strongest hockey competition outside the NHL. While most of the teams are based in Russia, the league also includes teams in several former communist countries.
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Besides Sochi, the KHL also said Wednesday on its website that it will add Finnish team Jokerit and Lada Tolyatti, a club in central Russia, to bring the league to 31 teams in nine countries.
Sochi, a small city on the Black Sea coast, is far from Russian hockey’s traditional fan base in central and eastern cities. The nearest KHL team is Donbass Donetsk in Ukraine.
The team has been named the Sochi Leopards by the regional governor, but that is not yet official, the league said.
The confirmation of the team comes a week after Vladimir Katrenko, a director of Russia’s state auditing agency, told parliament that the country’s Sports Ministry ”should take urgent measures” to improve inadequate Olympic legacy plans. The government also wants defunct local football club Zhemchuzhina Sochi to be revived. That team in all likelihood would eventually play at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, a 2018 World Cup venue.
Jokerit, a Helsinki-based club part-owned by Russian billionaires Gennady Timchenko, Arkady Rotenberg and Boris Rotenberg, will be the first KHL team not based in an ex-Communist country. Timchenko and the Rotenberg brothers are considered close allies of President Vladimir Putin and all three were placed on a U.S. sanctions list last month following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
Lada played in the KHL until 2010 before arena problems forced it out. The team, which is owned by the AvtoVAZ car company, moved into a new 6,500-capacity arena last year.