A seedbed for champions

20 May 2014, 00:00 (msc)

This May the capital of Belarus is hosting the World Ice Hockey Championship. Shortly before, the country’s most up-to-date sports complex, the Chizhovka Arena — built specially for the Championship — hosted teams of 11-year-old boys from various countries competing in Europe’s most prestigious children’s ice hockey event, the Gazprom Neft Cup KHL Tournament. For the first time in the history of the competition, battles on the ice took place in two cities with strong hockey traditions — Minsk (Belarus) and Omsk (Russia), which is reckoned the hockey capital of Siberia. 24 children’s teams from six countries were divided into two groups: West and East. A record number of clubs and countries took part in the Tournament this year. Evgeny Tyutyunnik gives the details.

Cup games attracted thousands of fans in stands at the Omsk Arena and Chizhovka Arena, as well as more than 200 media representatives, TV channels in Russia and Belarus and enormous interest from the Internet audience! In eight years, a competition that started with six children’s teams from Siberian operating regions of the leading Russian oil company, Gazprom Neft, has grown into the largest hockey tournament on the European continent. 24 teams from six countries took part this year.

In Omsk, the opening East Group game was between young hockey players from two leading hockey schools, Avangard (Omsk) and Traktor (Chelyabinsk). The Urals boys from Chelyabinsk won out 3-1 after a tough struggle. Spectator attendance was the highest of any game in Tournament history: a record 8,700 fans came to see the game!

“I had never seen anything like it before! It was brilliant!” said Efim Arsutin a young player with Yugra, a team from the northern city of Khanty-Mansiysk, also playing in the Tournament. “After that laser show I’m really in the mood to win!”

West Group opened at the Minsk Arena with a game between Minsk Dinamo, appearing in the competition for the first time, and SKA from St. Petersburg. To the delight of the 5000-strong audience, this tough duel ended with a 2-1 victory for the Minsk team.

Various cultural and entertainment events were laid on for the competing teams. In Minsk, the young players visited the Stalin Line, a defensive complex and large open-air military museum from WWII. East Group teams visited the Omsk War Memorial, and the superfinalists, CSKA and Ak Bars, paid a visit to Gazprom Neft’s Omsk Oil Refinery.

BATTLE IS JOINED

The group of favourites to reach the super final was clear from the start of the competition. The boy teams from Magnitogorsk, Chelyabinsk, and Omsk stood out in East Group while the westerners were dominated by the Moscow schools, Dynamo and CSKA.

“The Tournament left us with a lot to remember,” said the Yamal forward Alexander Zakharin speaking to Neftegazeta newspaper. “OK, so we didn’t win! But we gained massive experience to help us grow into real professionals!”

In the West Group, the Moscow hockey schools, Dynamo and CSKA, met tough opposition from Yaroslavl Lokomotiv and the home-team players of Minsk Dinamo. Finnish Jokerit made a terrific Tournament debut, finally yielding to SKA in a penalty shootout.

Another first-timer, Donbass from Donetsk, put in a great performance after a slow start in early games. The difficult situation in Ukraine meant that their journey to Minsk took longer than planned. The team arrived on the night before its first game and missed the ice practice, which easily explains setbacks in the two first games. Donbass then regrouped and won two matches in a row. The boys may have failed to take a top position, but their coaches were well pleased with this performance and with the opportunity to test the team’s strength in the largest international event for under-11s.

The Gazprom Neft Cup Super Final in Omsk was the genuine climax of the competition. Players from Ak Bars, the East Group winner, took on CSKA. The latter team won by 1-0 at the end of three periods to carry the Cup from Siberia back to Moscow for the second year in a row, setting a Tournament record.

INVESTING IN THE FUTURE

The 8th Gazprom Neft Cup was attended by more than 500 young athletes from Russia, Belarus, Latvia, Finland, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. The Tournament has become an integral part of Gazprom Neft’s Native Towns social investment program, which aims to create the best possible conditions for development of sport in regions where the company operates.

Through the program Gazprom Neft finances the construction of social, educational, and sporting infrastructure facilities. Multipurpose sports centres have recently been opened in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area in the towns of Noyabrsk and Muravlenko and in Khanymey village. Ice palaces have been built in Leninsk-Kuznetsky (Kemerovo Region) and in Tarko-Sale (Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area). A multi-year program for construction of all-weather, open-air sports grounds is being implemented in Omsk, Orenburg, and Yamal-Nenets regions.

The Avangard Hockey Academy, set up in 2012 with headquarters in Omsk, will create a unified hockey education system for children and young people throughout Siberia. The first branch of the Academy has already opened in Tarko-Sale (Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area). This joint project between Gazprom Neft, Avangard hockey club, and the Government of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area will include the construction of Academy branches in Noyabrsk and Muravlenko in coming years. It will mean that children from Gazprom Neft operating regions can obtain first-class ice hockey training.

And the Gazprom Neft Cup will be there to give the most talented boys a real opportunity to assert themselves at international level!

CONTINENTAL TOURNAMENT

The Gazprom Neft Cup is already being called an informal children’s world championship, and the competition this year was uncompromising in both West and East Groups. Teams from two Russian ice hockey schools, Ak Bars (Kazan) and CSKA (Moscow), finally made it to the super final via a gruelling set of games. CSKA proved the strongest of the two, winning the Tournament trophy for the second consecutive time.

  • More than 15,000 spectators were present at the opening and closing hockey games and ceremonies
  • 57 games were played during the tournament
  • 3 TV channels broadcast games live
  • Over 200 journalists were accredited at the Tournament

MIKHAIL NESOLENOV (Avangard)
Best goalkeeper of the Tournament

“This tournament is very important for everyone. Everything was for real, like in grown-up competitions, and we managed without our parents. The stands were full. That made some of the boys feel nervous, but for me it was an encouragement to make me play better and more confidently.”

ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO
President of the Republic of Belarus:

“This children’s tournament in Minsk was yet another link in the series of sporting events leading up to the World Ice Hockey Championship. Sport is a basis for nurturing courage in the younger generation, a genuine school of physical strength and discipline. I am confident that the hockey players who have won their first victories in this competition will go on to conquer the highest sporting summits in the future.”

ALEXANDER DYUKOV
Chairman of the Gazprom Neft Management Board

“The participation of 24 teams and the simultaneous holding of the Tournament in two countries emphasize the status of the Gazprom Neft Cup as Europe’s largest ice hockey tournament for children. The Gazprom Neft Cup is one of the most important social projects of our company. The aim is not merely to promote ice hockey as a major sport in Russia, but, primarily, to build a tournament system for child-and-youth hockey, which can help shape top-quality professional club teams and the Russian national team.”

BORIS MIKHAILOV
Twice ice hockey Olympic champion, eight times world champion
“It is really great that Gazprom Neft and the KHL are holding these competitions. They do a lot of good for both children players and children’s coaches. Every team has its leaders, even at this young age, and the boys who are a little behind take their example from the leaders. The Gazprom Neft Cup also gives children the opportunity to play in amazing, ultra-modern stadiums. Sport keeps children off the street, it gets them involved in an activity they love, so it helps to nurture a healthy nation.”

ALEXANDER DYBAL
Chairman of the Tournament Organizing Committee and member of the Gazprom Neft Management Board

“The Gazprom Neft Cup has official status as a KHL tournament, and the Tournament fully deserves it. The KHL is the best hockey league in Europe and the Gazprom Neft Cup is the best children’s ice hockey tournament on the continent. So the Tournament applies all major league standards, from referee quality to the state of arenas. The first games and finals of the Tournament are broadcast live on the KHL TV channel, and the pre-match show at the Tournament opening is comparable with KHL’s All-Star Game. This year our Tournament celebrates its eighth birthday, which means that the boys who took part in the very first Gazprom Neft Cup Tournaments are already knocking on the doors of professional KHL clubs.”

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