Alexei Kalyuzhny, one of the best-known ice-hockey players in Belarus, has special reasons for looking forward to this year’s Gazprom Neft Cup. Kalyuzhny has twice played for winning teams in the Russian championship and was acclaimed best Belarusian player of 2010. He now plays for Minsk Dinamo after serving on the Omsk Avangard side during several previous seasons, so Minsk and Omsk — the two host cities for the 2014 Children’s Tournament — will always be dear to his heart.
— As a child, I always loved taking part in all sorts of tournaments. But that was back in USSR days, and everything felt different. Today Minsk is a foreign city for many players, and matches against foreign teams are always of particular interest. We always prepared very seriously for games against Czechoslovakian teams.
— If you think back to when you were 10 years old — what did you live for, what were your dreams?
— Like all boys, when I went to see a big hockey game I always dreamed of playing in an adult team myself. I dreamed that someday I would go out on the ice and play adult hockey. That was the dream for all of us.
— 10 or 11 years old is still a very young age. Do you think it’s too early to spot a future star?
— I look at it a bit differently. I think that all children are talented in one way or another. It’s just that some find their talent earlier and others later. But if a child has a desire, a dream, and if he lives it, then he is sure to achieve results. A lot depends on what his teachers and coaches are like, and how long he can spend on the ice, practising the sport that he loves. Even if something goes wrong, it is very important to keep right on and believe in your destiny, believe that you are going to succeed.
— Do you think it’s right to put players at such a tender age into a competition with such an adult level of organization and with all the grown-up trappings — accommodation, meals, transfers, pre-match shows, award ceremony?
— I think that it gives the kids a lot of motivation. They feel to be an important part of a big tournament, they see how they are treated and how well everything is organized — that everything is “grown-up”. And that acts as a discipline. I think the boys will really enjoy it. We have a whole new arena in Minsk and it will be particularly interesting for them to play on it. These boys don’t often get the chance to play at such big stadiums. What’s more, there will be a lot of spectators there: Omsk always turns out to see children’s ice hockey, and I expect good crowds in Minsk, too. Certainly, there will be some tough moments — some of them will have to face the disappointment of losing. But it is sure to be a very interesting and useful tournament for the boys.
— The Chizhovka Arena only opened recently, but you have probably already checked it out.
— Yes, this is one of the most versatile and advanced stadiums in Belarus! It is soon to host the World Championship, so everything will be laid on to the highest standards for the boys. There are plenty of changing rooms, all well equipped. When I remember where I played as a child, it’s hard not to be jealous!
— This year’s Gazprom Neft Cup will be held in Omsk and in Minsk. Tell us what these two cities mean to you personally?
— I was born in Minsk, so it will always be my home city and the city I feel closest to. But I also spent six years in Omsk. Those were great years for me in terms of my personal life — my daughter was born while I was playing there — and Omsk and the Omsk team mean a lot to me in sporting terms. I still have a lot of respect and affection for the Omsk fans.
— What is the level of interest in ice hockey in Belarus, and how much attention is given to children’s sport?
— I don’t think there is anyone in Belarus who doesn’t know a few things about ice hockey. The head of the state is a regular player and we have a lot of hockey schools. There are rinks in nearly every provincial city and more people are getting involved in the sport every year, bringing their children to sports sections. Dinamo Minsk is an excellent example! Children see how you can do well and grow as a person by playing ice hockey. I think that ice hockey in Belarus has a great future.