China, Meet Hockey. Russia, Meet a Huge Untapped Market.
After 678 games with six N.H.L. teams, Alexei Ponikarovsky thought he had seen everything by the time he played three seasons with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League.
阿列克谢·波尼卡罗夫斯基(Alexei Ponikarovsky)随六支国家冰球联盟(NHL)球队出征过678场比赛。因此，又在大陆冰球联赛（Kontinental Hockey League，简称KHL）的圣彼得堡SKA队(SKA St. Petersburg)打了三个赛季比赛之后，他以为自己什么都见识过了。
He was wrong.
“If somebody would tell me that I’m going to be playing in China at some point, I would say, ‘Are you crazy?’ ” Ponikarovsky said. “It’s another page in my life that is exciting. This I will remember all my life, for sure.”
Ponikarovsky currently plays for Kunlun Red Star, the K.H.L.’s new franchise in China, Asia’s first major pro hockey team. It is a bold new venture for the league, which is based in Russia but in recent years has expanded to Finland, Croatia and Slovakia.
The inaugural 2016-17 season has been trying at times for Kunlun’s players, coaches and staff. But standing on the precipice of a sprawling untapped hockey market, the club could have a lasting impact.
Though word of Chinese expansion circulated for months, the team’s official introduction took place on June 25. The ceremony in Beijing, which featured Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, and China’s, Xi Jinping, was held less than 10 weeks before the start of the K.H.L. season. That left little time to assemble a competitive roster that adhered to league guidelines, which require that Red Star have any combination of at least 10 Russian and Chinese players.
尽管向中国扩张的消息传了好几个月，但球队正式加入KHL是在6月25日。俄罗斯总统弗拉基米尔·V·普京(Vladimir V. Putin)和中国国家主席习近平出席了在北京举行的仪式。那时离KHL赛季开始只剩不到10周时间。这导致红星几乎没时间按照联赛的指导方针，组建一支有竞争力的队伍。相关指导方针要求球队至少有10名俄罗斯和中国球员，可以是任何组合。
“It did happen pretty fast,” the American forward Chad Rau said in a phone conversation. “You’d hear about guys signing, but they wouldn’t be here for a couple of weeks. They kind of trickled in.”
Then a preseason tournament in Astana, Kazakhstan, ended with a jarring incident.
After a hit from a Kunlun player left Astana forward Dustin Boyd with a broken leg, Astana dressed defenseman Damir Ryspayev for the rematch between the two teams on Aug. 8. Unprovoked, Ryspayev dropped Red Star forward Tomas Marcinko with a punch to the face less than three minutes into the game. Ryspayev, 21, then attacked three other Kunlun players before attempting to jump into the Kunlun bench.
比赛中，阿斯塔纳的前锋达斯廷·博伊德(Dustin Boyd)被昆仑的一名球员击中，一条腿骨折。在8月8日进行重赛时，阿斯塔纳让防守球员达米尔·雷斯帕耶夫(Damir Ryspayev)披挂上阵。比赛开始不到三分钟，雷斯帕耶夫无故朝鸿星前锋托马斯·马尔钦科(Tomas Marcinko)的脸上打了一拳，致马尔钦科跌倒。之后，21岁的雷斯帕耶夫又袭击了另外三名昆仑球员，并试图跳上昆仑的替补队员席。
Officials canceled the game, and Ryspayev was suspended indefinitely before receiving a lifetime K.H.L. ban.
“I think a lot of guys were just in shock,” Kunlun forward Sean Collins said. “When you’re in a new experience and you have a lot of new faces, guys from all over the world, you really need the guys to lean on in those situations. Our circumstances this year have made our team a lot closer.”
Collins, a Canadian, made history on Sept. 1 by scoring the franchise’s first goal in a season-opening 2-1 victory against Amur Khabarovsk. Four days later in Beijing, Kunlun beat Admiral Vladivostok, 6-3, before 7,832 fans in its first home game at the LeSports Center, the state-of-the-art arena built to host basketball at the 2008 Summer Olympics.
9月1日，来自加拿大的科林斯创造了历史。他为昆仑打入了第一个进球，帮助球队在开赛以来首次以2比1的比分击败哈巴罗夫斯克阿穆尔队(Amur Khabarovsk)。四天后在北京的首场主场比赛中，昆仑队当着7832名球迷的面6比3完胜海参崴海军上将队(Admiral Vladivostok)。比赛在乐视体育生态中心（LeSports Center，即五棵松体育馆——译注）举行，这个顶尖水平的体育场是为举办2008年夏季奥运会中的篮球比赛而修建的。
Red Star has not played there since.
The LeSports Center had committed to hosting concerts and home games for the Chinese Basketball Association’s Beijing Ducks. That full slate forced Kunlun to move roughly 800 miles south to Shanghai, where it plays at Feiyang Skating Center.
On Oct. 27, the team reached an important milestone when the Chinese-Canadian defenseman Zach Yuen scored the game’s only goal in a 1-0 victory against Khabarovsk. A Winnipeg Jets draft pick born in Vancouver, Yuen became the first Chinese player to score in a league game.
10月27日，球队迎来了具有里程碑意义的重要时刻。华裔加拿大防守球员袁俊杰(Zach Yuen)打入了整场比赛的唯一一个进球，球队1比0战胜哈巴罗夫斯克队。作为温尼伯喷气机队(Winnipeg Jets)的选秀球员，出生于温哥华的袁俊杰成为首个在联赛比赛中进球的华裔球员。
According to the official summary, the game attracted 721 spectators in a building that fits up to 5,000. The small numbers and the fans’ attitude create an unusual atmosphere.
“One of the interesting things at our home games is the way the Chinese people behave,” Collins said. “They’re very polite during games. You score a goal and they politely clap.”
There are four other Chinese players on the team who, unlike Yuen, were born in China. Only one, Rudi Ying, plays regularly.
Local fans have slowly learned the nuances of hockey fandom, and players have been told that the team will return to Beijing in mid-December. In the meantime, players and coaches are living at a Marriott hotel in Shanghai, where meals and accommodations are paid for by the club.
Other logistical hurdles have at times made the transition difficult. With restrictions limiting cash transfers to foreign bank accounts, the team’s North American players spent a recent day off opening bank accounts in Hong Kong. Certain players’ personalized equipment, some of which was manufactured in China, still has not arrived.
But the greatest challenge has been travel. With the exception of Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, eastern Russian cities near the Chinese border, travel days to and from China typically last at least 10 hours. That often includes a stop in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, where the team plane is refueled and assigned a new flight crew. Restrictions also require that team flights depart or arrive between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.
“It’s hard,” said Ponikarovsky, who was quick to point out that visiting teams must endure the same marathon travel before arriving in China. “It takes a little toll on your body, but there’s nothing you can do.
“Sometimes it actually plays in our favor, so it’s give-and-take.”
Despite these challenges, the team has remained competitive. As of Monday, Kunlun had won 12 of 25 games and occupied a playoff spot. By returning to Beijing in time for a late-season playoff push, the team could move closer to its ultimate goal of growing the game in China.
When Beijing was named host city for the 2022 Winter Olympics, China immediately became hockey’s brave new frontier. N.H.L. clubs, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens, have sent delegations in an effort to expand their global reach.
北京获得2022年冬奥会举办权的时候，中国立刻就变成了冰球最新的待开发区域。一些NHL俱乐部，包括多伦多枫叶队(Toronto Maple Leafs)、波士顿棕熊队(Boston Bruins)和蒙特利尔加拿大人队(Montreal Canadiens)，已经派来了代表团，以便扩大其全球影响力。
Just 15 months before Pyeongchang, South Korea, hosts the 2018 Games, the players and coaches who uprooted their lives could ultimately help establish a new Asian hockey market.
“We already see some progress,” Coach Vladimir Yurzinov said through an interpreter via email. “Crowds are still not too big but they become more and more passionate at each game. For the moment, Chinese simply don’t know our sport so our main goal is to introduce hockey to them. After that they will love it, I’m sure.”