CSKA came to Omsk not just to play in the Gazprom Neft Cup Super Final. The players know who won last year’s tournament, and they know what that means.
Forward Nikita Kasutin who hit three goals during West Group play, stated confidently: his team wants to prove that CSKA’s victory in the 2013 Europe’s biggest children’s ice hockey tournament was no accident. “I want everyone to know for sure — CSKA is the best club! We’re going to try very hard.”
“How did we win in Minsk?” Nikita repeats the question. “Our coach was constantly telling us to play defence, defence was the first step. And only then attacking is justified. And, of course, we couldn’t let up on anything, especially speed. The defenders couldn’t let any opposing players through.
We had an idea that we would win, but we weren’t sure right away —it was pretty difficult. Especially in the last two games, with Dynamo and Lokomotiv. The ‘railroad’ team had good defence. And also because they’re all so short — it’s really tricky to play against such short and quick opponents.”
According to second CSKA coach Vladimir Grishin, the team improved in the West Group. At first it seemed that the “army” team weren’t really in the game, that they weren’t prepared to the full extent required. And the opponents weren’t that strong either. But in the play offs the team took every game seriously. “Everyone was ready, mobilised, that’s why we got through the quarter finals,” the coach admits.
The semi-final with Lokomotiv began well for the CSKA: they scored three goals and then led 6:0, although in the Moscow championships these two teams usually play evenly. The big result shows how psyched up the boys were, working hard, and disciplined beyond the ice. The coaches regularly talked to the players and were satisfied with how their young sportsmen behaved in general: free time was mostly spent recovering, so the team was physically strong in all their games. “If you feel fresh, the game is much better,” explains Grishin.
But today the boys have already forgotten about that victory in the West Group final. The flight and the change of scenery have affected the players. The boys have already started preparing themselves for the Super Final. “Of course there’s still a certain degree of satisfaction, but we already have another goal in mind. If we win in Omsk, then we’ll be able to return home and relax,” the coach said.
And everyone understands that if it was hard in the West semi-final, then the Super Final will be even harder. But...
“It doesn’t really matter to us who we’re playing, we haven’t really been following the East Group games. This is the last match, the one that decides everything, so we’re getting ready for the final,” the whole team said as one.
However, the CSKA coaching team headed by Valery Cherny has studied the potential opponents thoroughly. “It really doesn’t matter who we play,” said Vladimir Grishin. “But we followed events. We thought that Traktor would play strongly, but they weren’t lucky in the end. But the Ak Bars victory was not a surprise. We saw them as the favourites too. The Kazan team conceded few goals — that shows a high level within the team.”
Does the CSKA coaching team have any concerns about their players’ physical condition, due to the four-hour time difference between Minsk and Omsk?
“Yesterday and today we noticed that it did have an effect. The kids woke up late. But we think that the young body can adapt quickly. The time for the deciding game is pretty convenient. And anyway, if there is a bit of discomfort, knowing that we have an important game ahead of us, and thinking only about the game, you forget about those little things in the moment,” Valery Cherny notes.
And do all the trappings of the tournament have an effect on the guys? The tours, the show, attention of the press — it’s hard to imagine Gazprom Neft Cup without all of this.
“Of course all of this is unusual for the kids,” said Vladimir Grishin, smiling. “The press attention, especially. But it’s an experience. Both for them and us, the coaches. We have to be professional not only on the ice, but beyond the rink too. That kind of experience is important as well — in the future it will help the kids answer questions properly and represent themselves decently.”
CSKA arrived at Omsk on Wednesday. The guys note that the hotel is good, with two- and three-bed rooms, and the food is excellent. And that they’ve also been on tours to the Omsk Oil Refinery, so whatever the outcome of the match, the “army” team will have some special impressions to remember.
One must admit, however, that those memories will really be positive only if CSKA wins the Gazprom Neft Cup.