Right now, every Russian hockey fan is fixated on progress of the national team in Minsk, where Oleg Znarok’s players are fighting for the right to be called the best on the planet at the Ice Hockey World Championship. Our team has won convincing victories in its three games at the Tournament so far. The Russians first defeated the Swiss team
Today, the Russian team faces its fourth game in the group stage against Kazakhstan. The match will be held this evening in Minsk, where just two weeks ago junior hockey players tussled for the Gazprom Neft Cup. The Russian team can count on massive support from spectators in the stands and at home.
The runners-up at the Eighth KHL International Kids Hockey Tournament, the 11-year-old players of Kazan’s Ak Bars, will be cheering for Russia. Two members of the national team — defender Evgeny Medvedev and forward Danis Zaripov — come from the club. Danis now plays for the current holder of the Gagarin Cup, Metallurg from Magnitogorsk. But for many seasons, he did a great job defending the Ak Bars colours in the Kontinental Hockey League, for which he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic of Tatarstan and the devotion of Kazan fans. Players in Ak Bars children’s teams are eager to follow in their heroes’ footsteps. Interestingly enough, Artur Zaripov, Danis’ son, played with Ak Bars at the Seventh Gazprom Neft Cup. It was not the best year for the Kazan juniors, who finished in a disappointing tenth place despite being counted among Tournament favourites.
“Our task at the Tournament in 2014 wasn’t easy,” says Lenar Vildanov, the head coach of Ak Bars-2003. “We had to put in a good performance at this highly representative Tournament and show the best hockey we could after the upset for the 2002 boys last season. We wanted to prove, mainly to ourselves, but also, of course, to our rivals, that Tatarstan still has strong hockey traditions. We really appreciate the trouble that the Tournament organizers take to give 10- and 11-year-old boys a magnificent chance to show what they can do against the best opponents in Europe.”
“I am really impressed by the Russian national team,” says Igor Zharkov, forward with Ak Bars-2003, winners of the East Group this year. “The team has a strong attack. I will certainly be cheering for our team against Kazakhstan today. It’s so exciting! Just a few days ago CSKA, our opponent in the Gazprom Neft Super Final, was playing in that same Minsk arena where the best hockey players in the world are now playing — Jágr, Shatan, Ovechkin, and the others. Our own most important competition ended few weeks ago, but I still remember it all and think about it again and again. We gained invaluable experience at the Gazprom Neft Cup, we all put up a real fight. We competed against super-teams — all of the clubs there play in the Kontinental Hockey League. I even feel a little envious of the younger boys, who will go to the Tournament for Ak Bars next season. I dream of playing for an adult team and the emotions and feelings that we experienced at the Gazprom Neft Cup will help me to achieve that!”