Avangard has never missed a Gazprom Neft Cup Tournament. The boys representing the team this year were born in 2003 and are trained by the young coach, Mikhail Zlobin.
“I haven’t been working with the team for long — just three months — and I don’t know boys’ hockey abilities well enough yet. We get that figured out in games and training. I watch how the boys respond to what I say, my instructions, and the work load, how ready they are mentally, physically and tactically,” says Zlobin.
As usual, the junior players from Omsk started preparing for the new season well in advance. They have already been in action twice this year — in Yaroslavl and also in Barnaul, where Zlobin’s boys won a tournament held in memory of Alexey Cherepanov, beating all other teams. During that tournament the coaches were able to assess their own players and get a preview of some of the teams they will be facing up in the Gazprom Neft Cup.
“We saw how Lokomotiv and Sibir play. We lost to some teams and beat others, but we don’t come up against teams that are weak, some of these teams might not be quite ready for particular game, that’s all,” said the Omsk team head coach. “But all the teams in the Gazprom Neft Cup make sure they are ready, because it is an important Tournament that everyone wants to win. It’s a very important event for the young players. There won’t be any weak teams at the Tournament — you can be sure of that.”
Avangard is the only team in the history of the Gazprom Neft Cup to win the trophy twice. All the more reason why the Omsk players are setting their sights on victory in 2014.
“We are working hard and the training gets tougher every day,” says Artem Svishchev, the Avangard-2003 forward. “The Tournament is very important for us: the strongest teams in Russia will be there and it will be interesting tough challenge, to take them on. Our team is pretty well prepared, but there is always more to do, especially since we are only just starting out. I don’t know which team will be hardest to beat — you have to respect every opponent.”
Artem’s schoolmates in the previous year took third place in the 2013 Tournament. For this year’s players, success has to be first place on the podium.
“The team is ready now, but we have to keep working hard,” says Mikhail Nesolenov, the Avangard-2003 goalkeeper. “All our opponents are show high level of hockey, and victory depends on being better prepared and having a right spirit for victory. We mean to win, and I, as the team’s goalkeeper, will do my best to minimize goals against.”
Avangard will keep up the pace of training until the main event starts in April, and the Omsk players will take part in one more tournament before the Gazprom Neft Cup, giving coaches a chance to try out line combinations and tactical readiness. Mikhail Zlobin also brings the most promising of younger boys (the first line of the team born in 2004) into the training. Anyway, all Avangard junior players view the Gazprom Neft Cup as an absolutely new stage in their career — the stepping-stone to a place in the Russian championship two years later.
“Finishing first matters — of course it does. Psychologically, the young age of the boys can be a factor. We will be playing at home, in front of our supporters and fans, but the boys have never played in front of such a crowd and it will be tough for them trying to manage their emotions. I hope that being at home will help us. We are aiming for first place, but we will have to wait and see what the Tournament brings,” the head coach said.