The seventh regular season of the Kontinental Hockey League started on September 4 and pundits are naming several adult ice-hockey teams as this year’s favourites. The general opinion is that the Gagarin Cup will be contested between SKA St. Petersburg, CSKA and Dynamo Moscow, and Avangard Omsk. The Omsk team has changed its management, bringing back Raimo Summanen as head coach, but still prefers to pick its team from graduates of its own hockey school. Naturally enough, since the Omsk children’s ice hockey school is a force to be reckoned with. The boy players of Avangard were among the main contenders at the KHL International Kids Hockey Tournament in 2014.
The young talents from the hockey capital city of Siberia are keen to prove that their reputation is deserved. So preparations for the new children’s season are taken very seriously. The next Gazprom Neft Cup, scheduled for April 2015, will be attended by Avangard boys born in 2004. It seems a long way off, but in Omsk work is already underway.
The young club trainees returned from vacation in early July. For three weeks, the team had a series of ‘ground’ and ‘ice’ practices, followed by a first full-scale practice camp at one of the best sports centres in Omsk Region.
“The practice camp was a very interesting experience for the children,” says head coach Alexander Peretyatko. “The boys were busy all day long: out of bed at 7.30 (bedtime at 21.30), morning exercises, morning and evening practice, everything strictly to schedule. It was the first time the boys had been away from their parents for so long. The coaching staff kept a close eye on the routine, and, of course, the boys themselves learned to plan their own practice schedule.”
At the end of August, Avangard-2004 took part in its first practice tournament in Novokuznetsk. The Hawks played as two teams and the coach was pleased with their results: the main team won first place and the second team was fourth out of six.
“At the end of the season, we had 52 field players and 5 goalkeepers,” says Peretyatko. “Today the main team includes 35 boys, from whom we will select 25 for the Gazprom Neft Cup. That is the task for the training staff. The best, most promising boys will take part in the main Tournament of the season.”
The Hawks of 2004 know all about what they have to look forward to at the end of April.
“You won’t believe it, but the Avangard-2004 boys knew about it three years ago,” says Peretyatko. “This year all of them without exception were on the stands at the Omsk Arena watching the Gazprom Neft Cup games and cheering their older clubmates. Five of them had a two-month practice together with Avangard-2003, and one of them — the forward Gleb Trikozov — was selected for the Tournament and even scored two goals. So, he already knows about playing at Europe’s best children’s tournament, and he can share that experience with his teammates.”
Preparation of the young Hawks for the main start of the season is very intensive. Through the holidays during the school year the team will take part in a number of practice tournaments, friendly games with opponents from neighbouring regions, and “sparrings” with older squads at the Avangard school as well as other Omsk teams. So the coaches are not worried about lack of game practice ahead of the Gazprom Neft Cup. The coaches will select the final team for the competition in April 2015 based on what they see in the training stage, so nobody can count on a place and the boys have everything still to do.
The practice camps will also include tactical trainings, exchange of experience with coaches of Avangard-2003, and a special training session with sports psychologists to help the boys keep their cool before thousands of Gazprom Neft Cup fans at the Omsk Arena. The Avangard hockey school always sets the most ambitious goals.
“There is always a fabulous atmosphere at the Gazprom Neft Cup events,” say the Avangard-2004 head coach. “The Tournament brings together the strongest KHL junior teams and a whole army of journalists, as well as materials on the official Tournament website and other Internet sports portals are immense. The boys get taken up with all this, they follow and read the Gazprom Neft Cup news feed. The news also helps us coaches to keep an eye on the opposition. Children, coaches — all of us — are eagerly awaiting the next Tournament!”