The Night Hockey League — Russia’s most important amateur league — has reached Omsk. Two-time Olympic champion Alexander Kozhevnikov was invited to the opening ceremony and the gala match.
— It’s brilliant that the Night Hockey League is making headway in Omsk. Things are moving in the right direction. Backed by V.V. Putin, the league is alive and kicking. It’s not easy to stay upright on skates at the age of 40 or 50. If the Night Hockey League can make headway in a hockey mecca like Omsk, then it’s clear we’re doing something right. I mean — it’s not just Avangard that play here, there’s a lot of attention paid to kids’ and youth hockey. Even one Gazprom Neft Cup is worth something! It’s great that the company supports this tournament — and the fact that so many kids are playing hockey — well, that’s brilliant. Getting together to play against each other — that’s what’s important, for kids! They talk amongst themselves, grow together. Some of them will remember these tournaments for the rest of their lives — in the same way I remember travelling to Saransk or Nizhny Tagil. What happens to you at age 10 to 12 stays with you for a long time.
— How important is it — at their age — to focus on winning? Or is it, ultimately, more important to just enjoy playing hockey?
— You’ll never get the right balance. Winning is important, obviously, but one team’s going to be a bit stronger, another a bit weaker. So when the kids grow up, they won’t remember the result, so much as the atmosphere itself. Taking part in a tournament gives them the opportunity to see how they — and their team — stack up, to see some new things, to watch other players, and to keep pushing themselves. Victory isn’t the most important thing, in that context.
— What advice would you give kids of that age? How can they play better?
— They should play in whatever way works best. You don’t need to overdo it on special formations. A young hockey player needs to be independently strong. At 15 or 16 they’ll be playing formation hockey, but at this stage it’s important they develop independently, and aren’t embarrassed to do everything they are capable of, out on the ice.
— These tournaments include training masterclasses, with Vladimir Yurzinov visiting, and various schools sharing their experience. How important is all this?
— This is an excellent example of a crucial aspect of the sport, in terms of continuity, and in terms of senior colleagues passing on experience and tradition to the younger generation. We’ve not seen the like in recent years. The Hockey Federation needs to set up a training academy. It’s very good that the Gazprom Neft Cup supports the tradition of experience being passed from the older generation to the new. Without the past, there is no future; although every specialist is also an individual, and each of them will have different dreams. But a love for the game — that’s common to all coaches!