Defender Alexei Yatsenko is a graduate of the Omsk Avangard Ice-Hockey School. The 17-year-old now plays for the Omsk Hawks, twice champions of the Russian Youth Ice-Hockey League. He and his team notched up a major success at the start of the present season, winning the Youth World Cup.
Could you tell us something interesting about your playing for the Avangard-1996 team in the first Gazprom Neft Cup Tournament?
Aleksei: That was back in 2007 and I was taking my first steps in ice-hockey, along with the rest of my teammates. I remember it well, it was unforgettable, actually. The Cup was the first major tournament for our team, and we took third place against tough competition — we were up against boys from Yamal, Seversk, Tyumen, Khanty-Mansiysk and Noyabrsk. We were playing two matches a day in the first part of the Tournament. I remember that our first game was against Smena from Seversk and we won 16:0. In the semi-final, we did the best we could against Yamal, but unfortunately lost 1:2. Of course we were upset, we really wanted to win [smiles]. I remember too that the organisers created a really festive atmosphere, with a bright and colourful opening ceremony.
Have you kept track of the Gazprom Cup Tournaments since then?
Aleksei: I watched the Tournament last year and we even took part, but not in the actual competition — we played at the opening. I watched the matches that were held in the Avangard Hockey Centre and the Omsk Arena. The Tournament has grown a lot — it is now the largest youth ice-hockey competition in Europe! The number of teams has increased, with very strong hockey schools competing, and it is very prestigious for any club to take part in the Gazprom Neft Cup Tournament. I would be happy to feel again the emotions I felt when I was a part of it. The Tournament is very well organised, the tribunes are packed for the opening, matches are refereed by KHL referees and established hockey stars make an appearance on the ice.
How important do you think such events are?
Aleksei: The main thing that a Tournament like this gives to young players is experience. The boys are very nervous at the beginning — they feel a weight of responsibility that goes with taking part in the Tournament. But things get easier after the first match: they feel more relaxed on the ice and focus on the game. Naturally, I am backing our boys in Avangard-2003 for this year’s Gazprom Neft Cup!
What message do you have for young ice-hockey players?
Aleksei: Do your best to win — that is the first step into adult hockey. It is not just about scoring winning goals and getting points. What matters is team play, and if you have that, the result will come too. Work as hard as you can, listen to what the coach says and put it into practice. And never be afraid. Cowards don’t play ice-hockey!