For the sixth year running the Russian youth team have been placed among the top three at the world championships, taking a silver medal (only losing to the home team in overtime) at this year’s tournament in Finland, 26 December through 5 January. The team included former Gazprom Neft Cup participant (and now Omskiye Yastrebi player) Arthur Laut. Many former players in the Gazprom Neft Cup, and many who have yet to make it onto the ice for that competition, dream of joining the ranks of those playing in the country’s second most important hockey tournament. Head Coach of the Russia youth team, Valery Bragin, talked to us about his own route into top-level sport, and the importance of being fanatical about hockey.
— How were youth competitions organised in your childhood?
— In the early days we played against our mates from the block. The best teams were given the opportunity to take part in local (oblast) competitions, the best of which moved up to the “all-union” (national) level — everybody’s heard of the Golden Puck.
— And what’s your abiding memory of the hockey of your youth?
— Well that would be 1970, as part of the Fakela team representing the Sverdlovsk Oblast, where I won the Golden Puck. The tournament took place in Barnaul; the team won, taking first place. Plus — I was named ...either best player, or best attacker, I can’t remember.
— And at what point did you decide to devote your life to hockey?
— From the moment I started training. I loved the sport, becoming a real fanatic straight away — I couldn’t be separated from my stick, from morning ’til night.
— These days, it’s not unusual for results to be demanded of even very young boys. At the same time, there is a view that at about 10to 11, hockey shouldn’t be “work”, but a game, a pleasure. What do you think — is it worth working with young hockey players at an early stage?
— That’s absolutely right — any kind of sport should, above all, be a pleasure for a child. And the process has to be managed in such a way that every training session is a treat.New hockey players shouldn’t be doing it under duress, but because they’re mad about it. Variety in training, more interesting game-playing exercises, and avoiding routine will take care of that.
— How important do you think the Gazprom Neft Cup is in training the future talent pool for the youth — and, maybe, the main — national teams?
— Any tournament at which the best of an age group are competing against their peers — all the more so if it’s international — helps players emerge and contributes to their progress. Coaches, too, have an excellent opportunity to compare their charges’ performance, and the quality of their hockey, against the leading teams. In order to develop properly it is very important to be exposed to both good and bad experiences. And competing at the level of the hockey greats does this very effectively.
— How do you see the outlook for the tournament?
— The outlook is excellent. The bigger the tournament and the more the level of the competition improves, the better it is for everyone.
— What would you wish participants in the Gazprom Neft Cup?
— Good hockey. Always remember — hockey is the best game in the world!