The move is official. The Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays will head to Russia to join the Russian Women’s Hockey League, the Chinese-based team announced on Twitter.
They will be the eighth team in the Zhenskaya Khokkeinaya Liga (Женская хоккейная лига, or ZhHL).
It’s official! Kunlun Red Star Vanke Rays joins @whl_ru for 2019/2020 season! Женская команда #куньлуньредстар вступила в российскую профессиональную женскую хоккейную лигу (ЖХЛ) с сезона 2019/2020! Девушки сейчас проводят сборы в Шэньчжэне, а сезон начнётся уже в сентябре! pic.twitter.com/KUHxQ3mXD8— Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays (@KunlunCWHL) July 25, 2019
The new home for the former CWHL club makes a ton of sense. As Patrick Conway laid out in June when looking at if the team would join the league, the Kunlun Red Stars club has men’s teams at all levels of Russian hockey leagues.
There are many logistical reasons why having KRS Vanke Rays join the ZhHL makes perfect sense. To begin with, the Kunlun Red Star club is already deeply involved in Russian hockey at a number of levels. The club’s senior men’s team, Kunlun Red Star Beijing, plays in the KHL, which as already noted administers the Russian women’s league. Kunlun Red Star’s U20 men’s squad (Harbin-based KRS Heilongjiang) is in the top Russian junior league, the MHL, also run by the KHL. And the club’s professional men’s farm team, KRS-ORG Beijing, plays in Russia’s second-tier VHL.
Conway gives great background and explanation into the then-prospective move that now rings very true.
As the only independently owned team in the CWHL, KRS Vanke Rays continued on as normal after the abrupt closure of the league. They hired former North Dakota head coach Brian Idalski as their fourth head coach in their short history. In an interview with Women’s Hockey Life, goaltender Noora Räty said she had an offer from the team but was still deciding because of the move to the Russian league. Räty said the move would require “four months in Russia and four months in China,” a significant time commitment for any of the players involved.