We start a series of interviews with representatives of ice-hockey schools, which saw their teams on the podium at last year’s Gazprom Neft Cup. Igor Semenov, head of the Coach Council at Avangard Ice-Hockey School, gave us his view on standards at the Tournament, named the favourites and appreciated the benefits, which the competition gives to children who take part in it.
— How is the Avangard team preparing for another Gazprom Neft Cup?
— The Gazprom Neft Cup is very important for us. It will bring together all the top teams from ice-hockey schools in our country and beyond. This will be the largest Tournament in the history of the Cup, and there will be plenty of spectators, which is really important for the children psychologically. We have a new young coach, Mikhail Zlobin. He learnt his hockey in Omsk, playing with Kuryanov and Perezhogin. The team works well and it has made a lot of progress under his leadership — you will see in the games how they play now. Every coach tries to make his team perform well, to show itself to best effect in all competitions. We will be showing off our next generation — the boys who will carry the banner for Omsk and Avangard.
— Are they up to it?
— I do not want to bring some names — it is too early for that. But it is already clear that we have some good lads coming up, a centre-forward with very good skills, three or four very promising players, who will be even better skaters in a couple of years from now. But it takes a lot of work. Ice hockey is changing, the quality of training is getting better. We look at Canada — the level of competition there is quite high, we need to catch up.
— You have set up a Coach Council in Omsk that is supposed to help develop children’s hockey. How does it work?
— We get together, discuss some ideas that could help the young athletes develop, then we take collective decisions. The Council includes specialists with excellent coaching qualifications and top-level playing experience. Our task is to help the students play better.
— There are foreign teams playing in the Gazprom Neft Cup. What is to be gained from playing against foreign opponents?
— For the children, it will be the first time they are up against foreign teams. That is a big deal for them. It means they will be playing for their country and not just for their club and their city!
— So who is the favourite to win the biggest children’s Tournament in Russia and Europe?
— The Chelyabinsk team looks very good: they have five schools in the city, and they teach their boys very well. Then, of course, there is CSKA (Moscow) — they are always up with the leaders. Ak Bars and Lokomotiv are always strong, but look out for Ufa and Magnitogorsk too. Standards at sports schools are getting better.
— Any tournament is an important experience for a young ice-hockey player. What do you think is the main thing that the boys get out of the Gazprom Neft Cup?
— Sometimes a boy is brilliant in training, he outplays everyone else, but when an important game approaches his knees start shaking and he loses it. All children are different: some have more psychological strength, others need encouragement... Big tournaments like this are where they get the experience they need. They learn confidence, their psychology changes. This is a wonderful tournament, a really excellent one! All credit to Gazprom Neft for organizing an event on this scale.