|A happy Dinamo Riga player with the Cup of Hope (photo via Dinamo Riga)|
Congratulations to Dinamo! Highlights and a couple of other quick thoughts about the tournament below the jump.
The Cup of Hope tournament was a bit controversial at the outset, mostly because it was announced very suddenly, late in the regular season after some teams had already begun to off-load their high-priced talent. Even the design of the trophy itself was not widely known until recently, and there was apparently a funny moment in the victors' dressing room when the Dinamo players couldn't figure out how to get the top off of the cup in order to insert champagne. Fearful of damaging the trophy, they took it to a league official, who remedied the situation.
So can the tournament be said to have been a success? After all, it's a competition reserved for teams who've had a bad season. Well, to judge from the cheerful but somewhat low-key celebrations of the winning team, the players enjoyed it, but didn't see it as full compensation for not making the Gagarin Cup playoffs, which is about what you'd expect. Dinamo forward Miks Indrasis summed that sentiment quite directly after the presentation of the ceremony, saying "the season had failed... Well, [we] have won something." Again, it's no big surprise that those would be his feelings. The teams, however, did seem to take the event seriously, with full lineups generally being the order of the day (I don't know what if any pressure was exerted on them by the league to do that, mind you).
As for the fans, they seem to have warmed to the Cup of Hope as the tournament went along. Attendances were paltry in the early rounds, but there were good crowds by the end, and the two finals games in Khabarovsk were played in front of full or near-full houses. Here, for reference, are the home attendances of the two finalists throughout the tournament, listed in the order that the games were played:
Dinamo Riga: 2380, 2130, 2250, 2270, 3280, 4760, 5420
Amur Khabarovsk: 2720, 3260, 6100, 4600, 7051, 7100
As you can see, things were trending well, at least. And indeed, some Dinamo fans even made the 9200 km. trip to Khabarovsk for the last two games of the finals. In general, I think we can label the tournament as a qualified success, and it will be interesting to see what happens to it as the years go by and it becomes a more recognized part of the hockey calendar.
Congratulations once again to Dinamo Riga, then! They get, in addition to the trophy itself, about $500,000 and a first round draft pick in this May's KHL draft. Highlights of the tournament-clinching game are below!