Traktor Chelyabinsk left the ice with their runners-up prizes and only one team remained in the arena — Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Time for a lap of honour, dances on ice with the cup, interviews, photos, yet another lap of honour — the young hockey stars had no plans to leave the stage of their championship triumph. A few words from the coach, congratulations from proud parents, and, at last, the champs were happy to head to their hotel.
The trip to the airport started at 6 a.m. Moscow time. The kids lugged their kit back onto the bus, helped by tired parents and coaches. “We didn’t sleep a wink all night, we were too busy partying,” admitted one of the Yaroslavl delegation. The children were also given a night off from their usual sporting routine. Forward Dmitry Shorikov told us more:
“The coach let us do what we wanted. We celebrated, then headed to the café for fries, ice cream, and milkshakes. We could play with our phones and tablets until 10 p.m., but back home that was 1 a.m.”
On the bus, there was an unexpected hush. Everyone was exhausted, but delighted that they had done what they came to do. Oleg Krikunenko, Lokomotiv’s head coach, summed up his thoughts on the tournament:
“We came here with only victory in mind, there was no other target for us. We overcame a lot — the flight, the time difference, fatigue, great opponents. We had to deal with all that, but we achieved our goal and now we can celebrate.”
“OK, kids. Come here and stand in line, like at the canteen.” Three lively streams formed at the check-in desk at Omsk airport. With all the kit, they seemed enormous, but they moved quickly.
Defenseman Mark Ulyev explained that the Gazprom Neft Cup isn’t the last trophy Lokomotiv will play for this season but, of course, it’s by far the most important:
“We’ve still got one more competition in Moscow, an important one, and it will be tough to play there because we’re all tired. But yesterday we played the biggest game of our season and we’ve already won the biggest prize — the Gazprom Neft Cup. We’ve done what we set out to do this season.”
Next year Lokomotiv-2006 will be gunning for Gazprom Neft Cup glory, but before they head off to the competition they’ll be eager to hear all about it from their older clubmates. They’ll be asking what the team encountered in the tournament, how many people came to watch the Super Final in Omsk, what it was like being surrounded by reporters with videos, cameras, and dictaphones (and there were many of them). And the older players from Loko-2005 are already looking forward to telling their teammates all about it. Telling the story of how they took their first steps towards playing real men’s hockey.