On December 23, 2019, Salavat Yulaev (Ufa) receives the team Ak Bars Kazan in the Vaillant Arena in Davos.
This game will be the second part of the KHL project „KHL World Games“, which started with the games in Vienna and Zurich this project last year.
In the 2018/19 season, the KHL stars SKA St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow played in both Vienna and Zurich against Slovan Bratislava and Dinamo Riga. These games attracted a lot of attention in these new KHL markets.
It will not be the first time the KHL has come to Davos: nine years ago SKA and Spartak Moscow played a regular KHL season game at the same time in 2010. Both clubs took part in the Spengler Cup. SKA defeated Spartak in front of 4,611 spectators 5-1.
This year Salavat Yulaev will participate in the Spengler Cup and play a warm-up match against the big rival from Kazan. The fans in Davos should thus be able to enjoy a game between two very strong teams with this „Green Derby“ (the home shirts of the two clubs are green).
Tatarstan and Bashkortostan – two neighboring republics in the heart of Russia, sharing the fertile plains between the Volga and the Urals. Everybody is deeply proud of their own language, their cuisine, their culture. And you hockey! When Kazan and Ufa, the capitals of the two republics, meet on the ice, this is one of the biggest rivalries in Russian sport.
As so often in Russia, this was a rivalry that fundamentally changed with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Prior to 1991, the country’s hockey was dominated by CSKA Moscow, still the most-titled club in the world. In the very rare cases in which the army men did not win everything, the Soviet title nevertheless remained in Moscow. It was not until 1993 that Lada Togliatti broke the supremacy of the capital.
At the time, the teams in the provinces took on the challenge. Kazan was in a new economic boom driven by Tatarstan’s oil reserves, a moderately successful Soviet team now became a powerhouse of modern Russia. It was similar in Ufa. At the beginning of the 21st century, the two teams were prepared to lead the Russian hockey.
It was Ak Bars who won their first national title in 2007. A year later, this title went to Ufa after Salavat Yulaev had defeated Ak Bars in the grand finale of the Russian Super League. The following season saw the start of the KHL era, and it came as no surprise that these two were at the top of the table. Ak Bars won the Gagarin Cup in the first two seasons, Salavat Yulaev was in the opening season of the regular season in these opening years of the KHL. It was not surprising that Kazans KHL reign ended just in Ufa. In the 2010-11 season, Salavat Yulaev Ak Bars in the conference semifinal beat the rival on his way to his first Gagarin Cup title.
Throughout the period, from the founding of the teams in the 1960s to their current status as giants of the KHL, the Green Derby has formed a common thread in the progress of the teams and has put a focus on each season. Considering only the Green Derby itself, the first match was played in Kazan in 1966 with a 1-1 draw. The last „Green Derby“ came last Saturday when Salavat Yulaev won 3-1 in Ufa. This was the 199th game between the two teams, with Salavat Yulaev scoring 91 wins, 88 going to Kazan. 20 matches ended in a draw. In these games, Ufa 604 and Ak Bars scored 586 goals.
If this first game in the lower Soviet divisions in 1966 was a rather restrained affair, today’s green Derby are highlights of the KHL calendar. For fans of both teams, these games are painted in red on the calendar and are eagerly awaited well in advance. If a team finishes these matches with the right results, it can save a below-average season, and losing them to neighbors can affect the glory of an otherwise successful season.
It means a lot to players, especially those who grew up in the area, to play for their local teams. Ak Bars striker Artyom Lukoyanov, who grew up in Almetyevsk, Tatarstan, raised the intensity of the rivalry earlier this year in an interview with Sport Express.
The conversation went something like this:
Sport Express: „After the season, you could have gone to any club, not just Ak Bars.“
Lukoyanov: „Yes, I had some interesting offers. For example Salavat. „
Sport Express: „Salavat!?!?“
Lukoyanov: „Yeah, I’m making a joke – their fans would just kill me! „
But it is not just the locals who feel the special atmosphere of this derby. Last season, Canadian defender Paul Postma played for the first time in the KHL and his first trip to Ufa with Ak Bars was an outstanding moment. „It was fantastic, it’s definitely the game everyone’s been waiting for,“ he said. „It was amazing in Ufa, one of the best atmospheres I have experienced in ice hockey.“
Long-standing, intense rivalries like these between Ufa and Kazan are at the heart of what helps the sport inspire so many people worldwide.
You do not have to love or play baseball to learn about the Yankees and the Red Sox, and you do not have to be passionate about Spain to enjoy El Clasico between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. For this reason, in recent years the brand „Green Derby“ (Russian Zelyony Derby) has grown around this game. Today, the games between Salavat Yulaev and Ak Bars are played against the background of specially designed jerseys. Starting this season, the winner of each match will receive the „Chak-Chak Trophy“, inspired by a cult snack that symbolizes the hospitality of this part of the world. And more is coming. In December, the teams meet at the KHL World Games in Davos, Switzerland. Theoretically it is a home game for Salavat Yulaev. In practice, it’s a chance to use one of the highlights of the KHL calendar and share it with a whole new audience in the Alps. After the successes of last year’s trips to Vienna and Zurich, this is an extension of the World Games project, and it is about to bring one of Russia’s most violent rivalries on the international scene.
Facts about the KHL:
Teams: 24 out of 12 in the West Conference (2 Divisions a 6 teams) and 12 in the East Conference (2 Divisions a 6 teams).
Nations: 6, including 19 teams in Russia and one team each in Finland, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Latvia and China.
Record winner: AK Bars Kazan, 3x Gagarin Cup title.
Biggest stadium: Minsk Arena, 15000
Spectator cut 20118/2019: 6397 (National League 6949)
Swiss in the KHL:
2009/10 Martin Gerber, Atlant Mytishchi
2017/18 Goran Bezina, Medvescak Zagreb
Currently: Sven Andrighetto, Avangard Omsk