The chairman of the organising committee for the 8th KHL Gazprom Neft Cup international Youth Ice Hockey Tournament Alexander Dybal shared his thoughts on the first day of play, told about future plans for the development of the tournament, and explained why the young players try so hard in these tournaments.
Today in Minsk and Omsk the group stage of the Gazprom Neft Cup KHL 8th International Youth Ice Hockey Tournament is coming to an end. What can you say about the results?
The final results will be tallied on April 25 after the Superfinal in Omsk, where the winners of the East and West Groups will play each other. But we can already say that our tournament has reached a new level, for the first time bringing together 24 teams from six countries. This was the first time we were running two stages in two different cities — 12 teams in Minsk, Belarus, and 12 in Omsk, Russia. And while the Omsk fans were already used to the cup standards, the Minsk crowds are seeing this for the first time. But I think that we were able to support a high level of organisation at the opening and the holding the games in two countries at once. I want to especially thank the president of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, for the invitation to hold the selection stage in Minsk and providing assistance in preparation. At the opening and in the first game of the tournament in Omsk we were able to set a new attendance record — 8,700. In Minsk about 5,000 people came to the arena which I’m sure you will agree for the first opening event of a youth tournament is not bad at all.
How else will this tournament be memorable for the participants?
The main thing is that we had eight new clubs. The list of international teams was expanded to include Jokerit from Helsinki, Dinamo Minsk, Donbass from Donetsk, and Barys from Astana. New Russian KHL clubs included youth teams Torpedo, Dinamo Moscow, Severstal, and Vityaz. The convenient location of Minsk allowed many teams to come by their own busses. And for the first time in Minsk we were able to hold all the games for this stage under one roof, since the Chizhovka Arena, built for the world championships, has two ice rinks.
And was there any kind of special programme for coaches?
We decided to expand the extracurricular tournament programme with additional training for coaches. In fact today in Minsk there will be a seminar by the great Russian coach and two-time Olympic champion Boris Mikhailov. It will include the team mentors, as well as Belarussian youth coaches. In Omsk on the day of the superfinal we will hold a seminar by probably the most authoritative hockey strategist, the legendary Vladimir Yurzinov. This practice session is to continue in the future.
To return to the sporting aspect, how would you characterise the main goal of the tournament?
Are there already concrete examples of hockey players who ‘grew up’ in the Gazprom Neft Cup and went on to play at a high level?
Our tournament is 18 years old, so gradually the kids who took part in the very first Gazprom Neft Cups are beginning to ‘knock on the door’ of professional KHL clubs. For example, young defender Ilya Dervuk. When he was 11, he won a bronze medal in the very first Gazprom Neft Cup. Now Ilya is 17. He is on the Russian juniors team, is joining the MHL club Omsk Yastreby, and this season debuted in Avangard.
The Gazprom Neft Cup has status of an official KHL youth tournament. What advantages does that confer?
Official status as a KHL tournament is enough to determine our format. KHL Is the best hockey league in Europe, and Gazprom Neft Cup is the best youth hockey tournament on the continent. Therefore it has all the main league standards — from judging to the arenas. In a word, the first games and the final are broadcast on the KHL TV channel, and the pre-game show at the opening was on a level with the ‘Game of Stars’ KHL show. This year we were able to organise the media better: we only accredited about 200 journalists to the tournament.
The tournament is known, the specialists and scouts are watching it closely. And that means that the kids who intend to take hockey seriously in the future have a unique chance to get attention at a very early age.
This is already the eighth Gazprom Neft Cup. And the number of participants grows almost every year. Is this trend going to continue?
We were discussing this at the opening in Minsk with KHL president Alexander Medvedev and the chairman of Gasprom Neft Alexander Dyukov. Overall we’ve agreed in principle that the Gazprom Neft Cup as a KHL youth tournament should expand so that it eventually includes all the league clubs.