Having been schooled in the Gazprom Neft Cup, Vladislav Valentsov is among those now gaining recognition in adult hockey. His debut saw the defender winning gold as part of the Gazovik team, Tyumen (later renamed “Rubin”). Vladislav is now playing for Junior Hockey League team SKA-1946. The team is once again competing in the play-offs for the Kharlamov Cup, in which the army side were, last season, a hair’s breadth from victory, losing in the final. Vladislav Valentsov talked to us about childhood victories, about how not to get star-struck against a background of successful results, and about hockey being your life’s mission.
—Vladislav, when you hear the words “Gazprom Neft Cup”, what’s the first thought that comes to mind?
— Childhood memories are always enduring. I’ve never forgotten the spectacular opening ceremony, the huge turnout, speeches from great sportsmen, and all sorts of competitions. But above all, I remember the final, particularly the fireworks when they gave us the cup. Then there was even a celebratory dinner — just like they have in adult hockey. I would say that — in terms of youth hockey — this is the most important tournament, both in terms of the competition itself, and the way it’s organised.
— In 2007 your team, Gazovik, Tyumen, took first place in the Gazprom Neft Cup. What did that victory mean for you personally, and what impact did it have on your career?
— Our team took part in tournaments regularly, and always played to win; so the Gazprom Neft Cup too was something we set out to win. I remember very clearly that we played as a single, united team, following our coach’s instructions very closely. For me personally, this victory is one of the best memories I have of children’s hockey — largely because these are the moments you want to happen again and again, and what you’re always looking for, out on the ice.
— In one interview you said something you don’t often hear from Kontinental Hockey League players, namely “Hockey is our bread and butter, our living; so you have to give it your all, at every training session, at every game”. Have such wise thoughts been borne out by experience?
— I would say so. If you’re a professional, then you’ve got to have the right attitude to your job. If you don’t give your all in training sessions, if you don’t put in the effort during matches, then all your years of training are going to be useless.
— At what age did you realise you were seriously committed to a life of hockey?
— From the moment I first set foot on the ice! I’ve always loved playing hockey. So they enrolled me in a specialist sports school — just to try it out, to see if I liked it or not. I started skating as soon as I got onto the ice, and I just got it.
— Vladislav, you are a real role model for current participants in the Gazprom Neft Cup. Obviously, the recipe for success is different for everyone, but what would you advise 10- and 11-year-old boys, just starting out in major-league hockey, to concentrate on?
— Pay close attention to your coaches, and don’t skip training sessions. That’s the most important thing when you’re embarking on a career in sport, and will certainly pay dividends, in the future.
— Your immediate plans are tied up with the KHL — when are we going to see you on the rink at the Ice Palace?
— As they say — wait and see. Our team system means the strongest players come to the fore, so you have to keep striving, to reach the highest level of hockey, as played in St Petersburg. For now, I’m completely focussed on playing for SKA-1946.