Omsk Hawks forward and former winner of the ‘Best Player’ award at the 2008 Gazprom Neft Cup Tigran Manukyan relates what the tournament meant for him, confesses that he still has his trophies on display at home, and passes on his best wishes to this year’s participants.
— For our cohort, the Gazprom Neft Cup was one of the most memorable tournaments we played in, admits Tigran. I mean, it was held in a different city and everything. The team travelled to Khanty-Mansiysk and, for that reason alone, the tournament felt like a genuinely major-league one. Organisation was at the highest level — and I can say that now, now that I have something to compare it with. Two police cars accompanied us to every match — which, for us guys, was pretty impressive! And while that might sound sweet in retrospect, at the time it made us feel like real major players. As well as the hockey, we had a really interesting cultural programme — we got to see the city, visit a museum and go to the cinema. .
— And did travelling to a different city make it even more exciting?
— Well, the Chief Coach from our school team came with us, and he briefed us and gave us a pep talk before every game. And our parents came to pretty much every game in Khanty-Mansiysk, so we felt right at home. In addition to which, it was interesting to go somewhere as a team, and to play in what was, for us, a new ice rink.
— Do you still follow the Gazprom Neft Cup games now?
— Of course! Our entire team went to last year’s matches. As it happens, the tournament takes place after our season has ended, so we’re able to follow the teams — particularly since the organisers highlight those with the most interesting players. Many viewers follow the games now. The players are great — they’re genuinely in it to win, there’s a real battle going on out there on the ice. Mind you, it was just the same in our day. Although one team might have been a bit stronger, another a bit weaker...
— You were named Best Player in the 2008 tournament. Have you kept the trophies? And what does being the best mean to you personally?
— You try to be the best in every tournament you play, trying to stand out, trying to be a leader within the team: and that’s twice as important when you’re young. So I used to go out onto the ice with this amazing attitude, determined to help my team at every point. And I, of course, keep the prizes. It’s like a mini-museum at our house, with all the Gazprom Neft Cup trophies.
— How did the tournament go, in 2008?
— The tournament was very interesting; our impressions of the organisation, etc., that’s one thing, but what we felt on coming first — that’s just unforgettable. Once it had opened, we were just determined to win the Cup, and were only thinking about the final. And it was precisely the final against Tyumen’s Gazovik that turned out to be the most difficult game. Ultimately, it was a relentless, nail-biting match, which we ultimately won, 4:2. Everyone on the team was doing everything they could to win, interested only in first place: which is why, in the end, we did get what we wanted.
— What would you say to this year’s Gazprom Neft Cup participants?
— I would wish for them what I would have wanted to hear myself, before a tournament like this. Let’s hope everybody really plays as one team — because hockey, after all, is a team sport. And I wish the forwards every chance to score more goals! But may the best team win — although I, of course, will be feeling for the Avangard youth team. Alexander Peretyatko came with us as deputy chief coach in 2008, and now his team is taking part in the Cup: thus far, he’s led them through the tournament independently, so for that reason I, personally, wish every success to the coaches.