The Sport Express newspaper interviewed Alexander Dybal, Chairman of the Gazprom Neft Cup Organizational Committee and member of the Gazprom Neft Management Board
The Gazprom Neft Cup, the Seventh KHL International Youth Ice Hockey Tournament, will kick off in Omsk on April 25. Ten-year-old athletes representing the best ice hockey schools will compete once again for this most prestigious trophy. What awaits tournament participants and spectators? What are the Cup organizers’ plans? We discussed these questions with Alexander Dybal, head of the tournament Organizational Committee and member of the Gazprom Neft Management Board.
— Over the past seven years, the competition has basically turned into the leading European youth ice hockey tournament. How did that happen?
— I think that the main cause of the Cup’s growing popularity is the fact that, in many ways, and primarily in terms of its organizational level, it hardly differs from the best competitions for adults. After each tournament, we poll all of the teams’ mentors, and every single one of them remarks upon the high level of quality in the organization of the tournament. The coaches have been communicating with each other, and over these seven years we have built a good reputation for ourselves in the system of youth ice hockey training. The sports media have played a huge role as well. We really value how the tournament gets great reviews from journalists. It helps us build a positive image. These things are all the more important since we do have ambitious plans to develop the tournament further. This year, Reebok and SOGAZ have become partners of the tournament. Gazprom Neft covers most of the costs, but we are planning to get other sponsors involved, which will help the Cup grow even faster.
— How did you end up partnering with the KHL?
— We were gradually accumulating experience. We didn’t immediately realize that the best format is to create a real, “grown-up” tournament for children. The tournament was created as the first ice hockey project of the Gazprom for Children program, and at first, ice hockey clubs from our company’s main production regions took part in it. We actually held some pretty good youth ice hockey competitions. But each year, something was improved on in the organization, and by the fifth tournament we had set the ambitious goal for ourselves of making it the best European youth competition both in terms of the participants’ athletic level and in terms of tournament organization.
It was also by this time that the KHL had been formed and was experiencing burgeoning growth. At some point, the KHL and Gazprom Neft decided to join forces by making the Gazprom Neft Cup the official tournament for KHL youth ice hockey teams. And we now having everything that the best competitions for adults have: the Cup is advertized in leading sports publications, there are live broadcasts of the opening and final games on the KHL TV network, and there are multimedia shows and professional referees. Even the trophy itself was created by the same craftsmen who created the Gagarin Cup. Each year, the name of the winning team is inscribed on the cup, and then that team gets to keep the trophy until the next tournament. Besides the awards, tournament winners also get gift certificates for the purchase of ice hockey gear for the whole team. The best players get individual prizes.
— In your opinion, which clubs are the most promising in the upcoming tournament?
— In the last three tournaments, the Cup has gone from Avangard to Traktor to the current champion, Ak Bars. The results show that the main contenders are clubs with strong youth ice hockey schools. It is well-known that those schools include Yaroslavl, Magnitogorsk, Omsk, Kazan, Nizhnekamsk, Chelyabinsk, and Ufa. But the good thing about our tournament is that the boys in it are at the age when the differences in training are not so obvious, and it’s not just the most favored teams that have a chance of winning. That’s why I’m sure that there will be surprises.
— What do you have in your plans that the spectators will enjoy?
— Our creative team has been working actively on a new multimedia show for the tournament opening. Last year nearly eight thousand spectators attended the ceremony, and they certainly were not disappointed in what they saw. We will present a new picture to TV viewers: the KHL TV network will broadcast the opening ceremony and the kickoff game between Ak Bars and Avangard live in HDTV format. It was last year that Avangard bought equipment for HDTV broadcasting of games held in the Omsk Arena. After each game, a full-scale report with statistics and video highlights will be made available on the tournament website.
— How would you describe the vision of the Gazprom Neft Cup? Generally speaking, what’s the purpose of the tournament’s existence?
— For many years, there has been talk in our country about the lack of a reserve for the main team. Now that Russia’s main, under-21, and junior national teams are regularly winning world championship medals, we can say that the ice hockey player training process, after faltering in the 1990s, is actively developing and becoming a full-fledged part of the overall system. So, the Gazprom Neft Cup is an important element of that system. The age of ten years is when a beginning ice hockey player’s character takes shape. It’s important to set priorities correctly and help the boys believe in themselves and get a taste of victory. Also, don’t forget that during the competition there’s an interaction among ice hockey schools when coaches share their experiences with each other.
— How do you see the future of the tournament? Do you plan to increase the number of participants?
— This year, we received 22 applications. But we can hold the tournament in a single city in a reasonable time frame at a high level of quality only for 16 teams. That is why we and the KHL will decide how to expand the tournament to 24 participating teams. The first solution that comes to mind is holding the tournament in two cities with a “super final” of the top four teams in the end. But that complicates organization of the tournament substantially, and is certainly more expensive. We will discuss it. In any case, all of the clubs that applied to participate this year but didn’t get to play will definitely vie for the Gazprom Neft Cup next year.
— Will the competition leave Omsk?
— No. Whatever happens, the Cup will be held in Omsk. The city has a wonderful ice hockey infrastructure that is constantly developing. Our project to build the central complex of the Avangard Ice Hockey Academy is something to consider just by itself! And the interest of the people of Omsk in the tournament and youth and under-21 ice hockey in general is well-known. It was not too long ago that nearly ten thousand spectators attended the game between the under-21 Omsk Yastreby [translation: “Hawks”] and the ice hockey team of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, thereby setting a record for the League. That’s why holding the tournament in Omsk makes sense in every way. It’s just possible that one more city with an appropriate infrastructure will be added to that. This is an issue we’re discussing with the League and the heads of other ice hockey regions.
— Let’s conclude with a question about something other than the tournament. How is the project to build the Avangard Ice Hockey Academy going?
— It’s going well. We’ve already begun work on the design of the academy’s central complex, which is to contain a big ice training center, a medical center, and a dormitory. An inter-regional system for the training of children and youth from Siberia and the Ural region with a center in Omsk is being created on the basis of one of the country’s leading ice hockey schools, Avangard. A network of academy branch hockey centers and a unified methodical basis for teaching and training coaching personnel will be formed. I’m sure that, within a few years, the academy’s central complex will become one of the places where the Gazprom Neft Cup is held.