Among the participants of the 8th Gazprom Neft Cup West Group grand closing ceremony was Olympic ice hockey champion Sergei Babinov. The four-time World Champion reflects on the competition and explains what qualities today’s players must possess in order to become the adult ice hockey stars of tomorrow.
— The Gazprom Neft Cup is a real hockey festival for the kids who came to Minsk from all corners of Russia and beyond," said Sergei Babinov. "Here, in the magnificent ice palace of the Chizhovka Arena, we were treated to three extremely thrilling, entertaining days of competition on a par with any adult world championship. This was a real challenge for the boys, a character-building test of strength and endurance. Coaches and players alike should draw some important conclusions from the results of the fixtures, and adjust their training where necessary to ensure even better results in future.
— Did watching these boys remind you of your own childhood days?
— Of course, I have fond memories of the early steps of my sporting career. It was a golden age for me. True, we didn’t have such opportunities and facilities as today’s young sportsmen. But I grew up in a Urals town where it was winter practically all year round. We skated in the open air, and believe me, we loved it. We could skate as much as we wanted with no real time limitations, and that naturally gave us a certain advantage in training.
— What are the main differences between adult team games and a children’s competition?
— Pragmatism and scoring rule in adult hockey. The children enjoy a wider scope for dare-devilry, action and the desire to express themselves in every step of the way and every aspect of the game. Children’s hockey is completely different, even though the tactics of the game, strategy, skating, and stick technique are all there and are all crucial. Ingenuousness is the main difference between the children and the adults.
— What does the Gazprom Neft Cup mean for these young ice hockey players and what do you think was the hardest thing for them?
— First of all the lads are more prone to nerves. Any competition is a huge deal for young sportsmen, but the Gazprom Neft Cup is in a class of its own. The Tournament is broadcast far and wide, and so many new teams join it each year that it is now held in two cities. I am sure it’s a dream for every child to take part in it! This is an invaluable stage in the growth of these young players, and I think that with the level of its organization and in all of its sporting and sports-related aspects the Tournament can be compared to the children’s Ice Hockey World Championship.
— What do the young players get from it?
— The kids are extremely motivated in these competitions as they come with the explicit aim of winning and becoming the best children’s team in Eurasia. They don’t play only for themselves — they hold nothing back and battle for the whole school. And these games instil in them essential qualities to grow up as very decent people and, if all goes well, to become the hockey stars of the future.
— What are these qualities?
— A sense of patriotism, responsibility for yourself and your line-mates, for the squad and for the team. And that’s why they are willing to get right behind the puck, or throw themselves in its way, and just to fight ... This all plays a huge role in uniting and consolidating them as a single unit. That’s the vital thing in hockey, that sense of solidarity and knowing that your teammates will back you up at any time. The reward for this effort is victory, and that’s a feeling you cannot convey in words, you have to experience it yourself. You saw how ecstatic the CSKA boys were after the Final — you won’t find that anywhere else. These emotions come at a high cost and you want to experience them again and again!
— What is an efficient strategy for a children’s team?
— In Soviet times it was the team game that brought us results. Ice hockey was more of a combination game, built around passing. Today it’s become more individual in nature and a lot more physical. Interestingly though, the Canadians who beat everyone in the last two Olympic Games took the best that our Soviet game had to offer. Be they coaches or players, today’s Gazprom Neft Cup participants should draw conclusions and work in this direction.
— What is the key thing in this much loved sport?
— Apart from being technically well equipped and tactically skilled, then probably the ability to take the rough with the smooth. Because you won’t always like what happens on the ice and it can’t always go your way. So the boys must yearn, and be able to, fight on, regardless of the difficulties. The ability to suck it up and work for the future, this are the bedrock of a successful sporting career!