KHL expanding to China in 2016-17, South Korea could be next

The Russian-based KHL announced Monday it will be expanding to Beijing, China in time for next season. The unnamed Beijing team will also get a hockey academy in order to help grow the spot in China ahead of the 2022 Olympic games. China will be one of eight countries with a KHL team.

The first expansion team for the 2016-17 season has been awarded, but it won’t be playing in Las Vegas or Quebec City. The KHL announced Monday the league will have a team from Beijing joining the league, and the new club will begin playing in September 2016, according to TASS.

Beijing’s KHL team, which is yet unnamed, will play at the 18,000-seat MasterCard Center in Beijing, which currently plays host to the Chinese Basketball Association’s Beijing Ducks. The arena was also host to the basketball tournament at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The team will be backed by Russian and Chinese businesses, and the league will also be supplying Beijing with a development academy.

“The task is to build a hockey vertical: a KHL team, a second team playing in the Chinese league, a team in the youth league and mass involvement so that all who wish can play ice hockey and there should be more ice rinks that are public and open for all,” vice president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, Roman Rotenberg, told “This is a priority task.”

The expansion to China has long been rumored, and Pro Hockey Players Association agent Darryl Wolski said in June that the league was planning an expansion into Beijing. One big reason for the expansion is the 2022 Winter Olympics, which are set to take place in Beijing. China was said to be a potential host for a KHL game as soon as this season, though it doesn’t appear as though that will happen.

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The KHL currently features 28 teams, with most situated in Russia. Other countries with KHL clubs include Kazakhstan (Barys Astana), Belarus (Dinamo Minsk), Latvia (Dinamo Riga), Slovakia (HC Slovan Bratislava), Finland (Jokerit) and Croatia (Medvescak Zagreb).

According to TSN’s Rick Westhead, the league could also be looking into expansion to Seoul, South Korea in the next “year or two.”

For years, the KHL has been looking to grow and expand in an attempt to compete with the NHL and become a worldwide league. In 2012, former league president Alexander Medvedev mentioned the potential for the league to expand to 64 teams. Medvedev was replaced by Dmitry Chernyshenko in November 2014.