The XII Gazprom Neft Cup International KHL Kids Hockey Tournament opened on 21 April. Twenty-six teams from six countries — Belarus, Finland, Germany, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Russia — are taking part in the 2018 Cup. West Group games will be played in Sochi, while East Group matches will be held in Omsk. In Sochi, the teams will take to the ice of the Bolshoy Ice Dome and Iceberg Skating Palace, used in the Olympics. Once again, the main Gazprom Neft Cup venue is the Omsk Arena, which will host the Super Final between the East and West Group winners on 25 April to determine the champions.
Before the opening games of the tournament, a large multimedia show was put on to present the teams. More than 8 500 fans were in the stands of Sochi’s Bolshoy Ice Dome, while Omsk Arena attracted over 10 000 The East Group opening match pitted Avangard against Salavat Ulaev, who recently met in the Gagarin Cup play-offs. Avangard won the game with a score of 1:0. The West Group opened with a match between reigning Gazprom Neft Cup champions CSKA and Lokomotiv. Lokomotiv came out on top with a score of 2:1.
Speaking at the XII Gazprom Neft Cup opening ceremony, Alexander Dybal, Chairman of the Tournament Organising Committee and member of the Gazprom Neft Management Board, said: “This year, we have taken another step in expanding the tournament’s geographical reach. We welcome Jungadler Mannheim from Germany and Admiral from Vladivostok in Russia. Today, 26 teams from six countries will embark on a true battle for the cup in Europe’s leading U11 ice-hockey tournament. The players, coaches and organisers have been working throughout the year to make this an international celebration of ice-hockey which participants will remember for a lifetime. Let’s make these days all about ice-hockey, and enjoy ourselves whether we’re in the stands or on the ice!”
The group stage of the competition will conclude on 23 April. On the following day, the West Group champions will board a special flight to Omsk, where they will play the East Group winners in the Super Final on 25 April.
The Gazprom Neft Cup was established by Gazprom Neft as a U11 children’s ice-hockey tournament in 2007. Since 2010, the tournament has been co-organised by the Kontinental Hockey League, following which it expanded to include only the kids’ teams of KHL clubs. Since 2018, countries whose clubs are not KHL members have been included on a one team per country basis. National ice-hockey federations can choose one kids’ team to take part in the tournament. In 2018, Jungadler Mannheim is representing Germany for the first time, taking the number of participating countries to six: Belarus, Finland, Germany, Kazakhstan, Latvia, and Russia.
The Gazprom Neft Cup boasts an unprecedented level of organisation for a children’s competition: the games take place at KHL ice arenas and are managed by professional referees. The opening ceremony is at the same level as games featuring KHL stars. The main competition trophy was made by the craftsmen who created the Gagarin Cup. Every year the name of the winning team is engraved on the Gazprom Neft Cup, and that team keeps the Cup until the next tournament. Since the Gazprom Neft Cup received its status as the official KHL Kids Hockey Tournament, winners have included Avangard (2010), Traktor (2011), Ak Bars (2012), CSKA (2013, 2014, 2017), Dynamo (Moscow) (2015), and Lokomotiv (2016).