The Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk has reached the semi-final stage. Just yesterday the Russian national team, still undefeated, swept aside the French team 3:0 and will face Sweden in the semi-final. The match will be held in the Belarus capital on Saturday at 15:45 Moscow time.
Expect players of the child team at Yekaterinburg’s home club, Avtomobilist, to be glued to their TV screens at that time. These are the same boys who recently took part in the 8th Gazprom Neft Cup KHL Kids Hockey Tournament in Minsk.
In Yekaterinburg, both the school year and the hockey season are at an end, and the city’s hockey managers are reviewing the achievements. Leonid Baulov, the senior coach of Avtomobilist-2003 (the under-11 team that competed a month ago in Minsk) is pleased with the results. He and the team captain shared their impressions of the Gazprom Neft Cup Tournament in an interview.
Leonid Baulov, Avtomobilist-2003 Coach
— In principle, our boys were a match for all opponents. But we made mistakes in defence. I reckon that the East Group had three teams stronger than Avtomobilist, so we could have been in the top four.
— Many experts are now calling the Gazprom Neft Cup an informal children’s world championship. Do you think the level of competition in the Tournament is really that comprehensive?
— The Cup had new participants this year and almost all of the teams are from clubs in the Kontinental Hockey League. Expanding the geography of participating teams has been very important for achieving the high status, which the Tournament now has. So I agree with the experts who compare the Gazprom Neft Cup with a world championship. I am sure there is nothing to compare with it in children’s contests anywhere else in the world!
— Moving from global issues to particulars, how did you and your boys benefit from playing in the Tournament?
— The Tournament gave us confidence in ourselves and our own strength. After these contests, the lads know for sure that there are no unbeatable opponents and that they can take on any team if they approach it right. The main thing is being ready to put up the best possible fight, and my boys have proved to themselves that they can do that. So we lost against our main rival, Traktor, and to Sibir. But we fought and we fought hard! We are glad that our boys had the opportunity to get such tremendous experience, because next year their team will play in the Russia Championship. I am sure that they are now much better prepared for future games. I say it again — Avtomobilist put up an excellent show, despite the final results.
Ivan Mikheyev, Captain of Avtomobilist-2003
— We really enjoyed everything in Omsk! The conditions created for our team were fabulous. Sure, it hurts a little that we didn’t make the prizes. We were just a bit unlucky. Though, of course, it was our fault too. It’s been almost a month since the end of the Gazprom Neft Cup, and we still believe that we could have done much better!
— The World Championship is taking place now in Minsk. Are you following the results?
— Of course! There are a lot of players from our parts in our national team: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Evgeny Malkin, Anton Belov, Nikolai Kulemin and other top hockey players. Anyone who loves hockey follows the World Championship. The play is so intense, there are lots of brilliant combinations, feints, stickhandling and saves.
— What tournament has the most status and prestige for you?
— The most prestigious tournament for adult players is the Olympic Games, of course. But for me and the other boys the Gazprom Neft Cup is the best competition! Nothing like it has happened to us before. We didn’t finish as winners, but we felt like real professionals for the time the Tournament was on, and now we will always do our best to meet expectations and become real pros.