The express from Chelyabinsk pulls into track one at Omsk railway station. It brings two junior hockey teams from the Urals, travelling from the city of Magnitogorsk — Traktor and Metallurg. The ‘magnets’ are easy to distinguish because of their tops with the Magnitogorsk team mascot —— a red fox. „Easy there!”, „Don’t get in the way”, „Careful not to fall”... Do what the coach says, even getting off the train!
The boys are just
The Metallurg head coach, Igor Dorofeyev, watches as his boys load their luggage. He’s minding they keep the schedule and he’s focused on what they came here for.
„We had a good journey and the weather is great. In every tournament we want to play as well as we can and finish without injuries. But what we really want to do is to win. That’s natural in any tournament.”
Interviewer: What are your team’s strengths?
I.D.: We have great spirit, we really want to do well, we all know what we have to achieve — to win, to prove to ourselves that we can do certain things.
I: Did you watch the adult Metallurg game?
I.D.: Yes, we watched online. Another result would have been nice, but that’s hockey. Two great teams, both deserve to do well, but the best wins.
Andrei Butkevich, the Metallurg Under-11 defender, told us about his favourite player in the adult team:
A.B.: I really like defender Chris Lee, he always has a lot of attacking options, he can move and pass fast. We watched the Metallurg game yesterday in the bus. Shame they didn’t win the cup.
I: Are you ready to play?
A.B.: We are in good spirits, waiting for a great tournament to start! We came to win. But we understand that there are no weak teams here. We are good on the counterattack, we’ll use that to catch out the other teams.
This will be a second Gazprom Neft Cup appearance for forward Alexander Rykov, who is sitting next to Andrei: he was here last year with the Metallurg boys a year older than himself. He told us what he expects for his teammates at this tournament:
„I can tell the boys just one thing — don’t worry! Leave that to the fans, let the operators take photos, and focus on the game!”
The opponent Metallurg Magnitogorsk meets most often is Traktor from nearby Chelyabinsk. The teams play each other regularly and the last two games have ended in defeat for the ‘Bears’ (as Traktor call themselves). The Traktor head coach Dmitry Talaykov told us how that would affect his team:
„We will benefit from it. When we meet with our main rival from Magnitogorsk, we’ll be meaner and more focused.”
The Traktor players are already in the „Tourist” hotel lobby, getting their backpacks with gifts from Gazprom Neft. There are plenty for everyone and everyone’s happy. The boys go to their rooms and get ready to visit the Omsk Arena. Two hours later they are training. Igor Bardin, a Traktor defender, tells us the history of his team’s rivalry with the boys from Magnitogorsk:
„The last three games we played ended 1:0. We won the first, but lost the other two. It’s always a close thing. We’ll play how we like to play and we won’t let anything put us off.”
The teams will meet in the preliminary stage on April 20. Expect quite a game!
The tournament hosts, Avangard, take the Gazprom Neft Cup ever more seriously than other teams, if that’s possible, and the reason is obvious: these are their stands, and all their fans are here to support them. Yegor Gladkikh, the Avangard team forward, told us his team’s priorities and what they have learnt from older players:
„It will be a tough tournament for our team, but we will try to win. The Gazprom Neft Cup is the most important tournament of the year for all of us and the most important in our lives so far. We have been preparing for five years, literally from the moment we first put on skates, and we have been training hard all this season. The 2004 players have told us all about the tournament, and we will do the best we can in every game, not to let down the fans.”
The lines come out in turn, do their exercises, and get their talk from the coach. You can see that the practice is well planned, the boys know what they have to do and do it. Success is down to team work: that’s what Prokhor Yazov, the Avangard defender, tells us:
„This tournament is important for our team, everyone will try to win, and us too. We put a lot of effort into this, we have been preparing for five years. Of course we are nervous. It’s the first time we will be playing with stands like this. There will be a lot of people... But we are one team, so we will play for each other. All for one and one for all!”
The Traktor boys are already warming up „on the ground”, as coaches call exercises off the ice. For the ‘Omsk hawks’ (the Avangard team), there’s nothing to hide from Traktor, at least now, when the teams are playing in different groups. Viktor Arkhipov, the Avangard head coach, is focused on the first leg:
„The first game will show if the boys are well prepared. They are all eager to perform the best they can, to do the best they can, and the first games will show what we have achieved in the season till now. I think they are ready. Psychological readiness is really important — the first game, packed tribunes, how they cope. I think everything will be okay.”
I: The lads all say they have been working hard for this for five years. Is that true?
V.A.: It’s my first year of work with the team, but I’m sure that’s true. Everyone knows that the Gazprom Neft Cup is being held for the tenth time, and it will be held many more times. Avangard −2006 is already getting ready, they are watching how the tournament develops, getting used to the stands. To play in the Cup and show their side to advantage is a dream for a lot of these boys.
I: What are your wishes for the tournament players and for your own boys?
V.A.: Enjoy the game, be lucky, and, of course, get all the wins you can and go as far as you can — get the winning habit. Responsibility in training is vital. We have that, now go out and win!