Gennady Kurochkin, coach of Atlant-2003: “The Gazprom Neft Cup has helped my boys to grow up!”

4 June 2014, 16:28 (msc)

“First and foremost, the winners were the teams, and not the stars alone. It is a great good fortune to have stars in a team. But it’s extra good fortune when the stars become part of the team...” So said the 1976 Innsbruck Olympic champion Viktor Shalimov, veteran of the USSR team and of Soviet hockey, who was an honoured guest at events dedicated to the closing of the season at the Junior and Youth Olympic Reserve School in Moscow Region (town of Mytishchi). Boys born in 2003 were in the spotlight at the official ceremony: these were the boys, led by coach Gennady Kurochkin, who took part this year in the Eighth Gazprom Neft Cup KHL International Kids Hockey Tournament.

School officials, coaches, and young hockey players themselves agree that the 2014 Tournament, with its expanded geography (this year the Gazprom Neft Cup was held simultaneously in two cities, Omsk and Minsk) was packed with excitement and suspense. And the experts agree too that these factors have much importance for the development of future professional athletes.

The Atlant team played in the West Group at the Chizhovka Arena stadium in Minsk. The same stadium that, soon after, hosted the Ice-Hockey World Championship matches. The match draw put Gennady Kurochkin’s charges in the same group as the Tournament newcomer, Ukrainian Donbass, and also the Tournament favourites, CSKA Moscow.

“All of the strongest schools from the Kontinental Hockey League were assembled in Minsk,” says the coach. “Even the KHL beginners, Finnish Jokerit, brought a strong and capable team to the Eighth Tournament. Our team finished in seventh place and I view that as a good result!

“What really mattered for us was the quarter-final game against the hosts, Minsk Dinamo. It was a playoff-style match, with its own intrigue and tragedy! Three minutes before the end, we were losing 0-3. And, then, like in the best Gagarin Cup games, the boys knocked in three goals in a row to get level! We were only beaten in the shootout. And remember that my boys were the underdogs, because the 4,000 spectators were nearly all cheering the Minsk team. That is a very big crowd for children’s hockey! When our player took the puck in the shootout, there was such a roar from the crowd that my boys nearly dropped their sticks.”

It is interesting that the Mytishchi team had defeated the same Dinamo Minsk boys not long ago, at a tournament in Tver. Minsk had drawn conclusions, worked to strengthen their team and were among the West Group favourites.

“The only team that beat us in our Group were the eventual champions,” Gennady Kurochkin says. “And don’t be surprised at the final score of 0:10. First, we were playing our second game of the day, while the Moscow players were fresh. Also, our boys kept getting sent to the bench. I’ll explain why, because it’s one of the specifics of children’s hockey: the Moscow Region championship allows body checking at this age, while the Gazprom Neft Cup rules for body checking were stricter. As a result, we played shorthanded a lot of the time. The boys from CSKA are good at making use of a numerical advantage, as all junior teams know.”

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“What are the take-aways from this competition, for the boys and for you personally?”

— They are mostly positive. At the Gazprom Neft Cup, we played against teams from other regions in Russia and from other countries. That adds up to tremendous experience, which will help both the boys and myself grow into professionals with a capital ‘P’ in the future and to love what we do, i.e. hockey, even more than we do now!“

All of the Atlant-2003 players are just as enthusiastic about their experience in Minsk. As well as the sport, the boys had a number of cultural and leisure events laid on, including a visit to the Stalin Line, a unique open-air military museum.

“I have finished my fifth school year in Mytishchi,” says the forward Boris Khachaturov. “I’ve been playing hockey since I was three and it’s my favourite sport. We really enjoyed everything in Minsk. It was a great Tournament, and I feel like I played in Kontinental Hockey League games. The city was welcoming and the people were friendly. We were in best of spirits in all the games, even against CSKA, though the result was discouraging. We did our best, but we were out of luck.”

“Who stood out in your team?”

“Our captain, Andrei Tsvetkov: he really tried his best. Egor Semichev was a great defender and thanks to both goalkeepers — Vadik Lubimov and Dima Saravdo. Both of them did a good job! Best wishes to all the 2004 boys to prepare properly for this great Tournament and to win the Super Final of the Gazprom Neft Cup!”

The Atlant-2003 boys say that the toughest game was against SKA St. Petersburg. It ended in a victory for the Moscow Region team, and Boris Khachaturov scored one of the decisive penalty shots.

There were quite a few adults at the Minsk Tournament wearing Atlant’s yellow-and-blue colours and supporting their kids with all their might. All of the boys are thankful to their parents, and say that their support gave them strength to push forward to victory when they were on the point of giving up. And everything that happened to them during those few days in Belarus remains unforgettable!

EXPERT OPINION

Vladimir Marinichev, Distinguished Russian Coach, Director of the Moscow Region Youth Hockey Olympic Reserve School (Mytishchi):

The Gazprom Neft Cup gives children and young coaches a great opportunity to hone their sports skills. I am sure that we will soon be seeing many of them in KHL teams and the Youth Hockey League, and also on the coaching boards of top Kontinental League clubs!

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