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The West Group teams gather

19 April 2014 | Interview

April 19, 2014

The teams of the West Group began to arrive in the Belarusian capital early Friday and by 10 a.m. local time the Chizhovka-Arena parking area was packed with club buses.

The ice hockey players, trainers and parents who came to support the future champions quickly sorted the kit bags of uniforms and carried them to the designated team dressing rooms.

The schedule for the first, non-competition day in Minsk for all the teams of the West Group was planned down to the minute. Hotel check-in, breakfast, a short acclimatization break and then they were off to training. Despite the long journey the young players’ eyes shone as if they were ready to take to the ice and battle it out right away if their coaches gave the word. But the start of the tournament was today, so there was time to let them try out the ice and familiarize themselves with the local infrastructure.

Open-air training

“We have an hour on the ice ahead of us since the organizers gave us the opportunity to do some training,” says CSKA coach Victor Cherny. “We reached Minsk at 7 p.m. last night and came here early this morning. We haven’t skated for a day so now we have to settle in, shake ourselves down and get a feel for the ice. The Tournament is a very serious event, all the ice hockey schools in both West and East are represented in the Continental Hockey League so it is already a result to beat any of these teams.”

What are the key factors in achieving the desired result?

"Above all this means game discipline. Being sent off can seriously affect the result of the matches. A lot will boil down to players making the most of any opportunities and the confidence of the goalkeepers.

“Members of the Yaroslavl Ice Hockey School came onto the ice at the Chizhovka-Arena after CSKA. The senior team did very well in the Gagarin Cup this season, knocking out their main rivals St. Petersburg SKA and Moscow Dynamo one after the other. The trainers of the junior team made up of boys born in 2003 hope they will follow in the footsteps of the older team.

There will be no shadow boxing at the Tournament

“The boys have just arrived, how difficult will it be to skate almost straight from the bus? Or will they only do light training today?”

“No, we will train according to the schedule. Today’s session is a busy one, 45 minutes altogether. We will try to give all the boys a turn on the ice. A tough competition lies ahead of them and there’s no time to sit around,” said Lokomotiv’s head coach, Alexander Voronin.

“Last year the team from Yaroslavl came fourth in the Tournament. How do you rate their current line-up? Which of the other teams do you think poses the toughest challenge?”

“All the teams are competing here on equal terms. They will all try to win and play some excellent ice hockey. In my opinion, the favourites include the current holders of the Gazprom Neft Cup, the CSKA Ice Hockey School team. Our aim in the Tournament is to show some beautiful hockey and get that puck moving, and we will do everything we can to thrill our fans.”

“They made us very comfortable here, the accommodation is a dream come true, although the boys and I kind of hoped it would be like this,” admitted Lokomotiv center Dmitry Yambelov. “We are ready to play hard and we will psych ourselves up for every match. I love scoring goals and setting up assists of course, but this is a team effort above all. Our parents came with us to Minsk and will support us at the matches, and that’s also a great help!”

While some teams were training hard others had to wait their turn to try out the Belarusian ice. But the waiting was hardly dull — the organizers had laid on a truly historical outing for Saturday, with the teams visiting in turn the city’s open-air military museum which comprises mock-up fortifications of the “Stalin line”. The exhibition includes all kinds of trenches, dug-outs and anti-tank ditches, firing positions, bunkers, gun emplacements and various obstacles made of wood, concrete and wire. Also exhibited are military equipment, firearms, artillery, tanks and aircraft.

Torpedo’s young hockey players examine military equipment

“The team and I are in Minsk for the first time and the boys are amazed,” said the CSKA head trainer Yevgeny Andreyev. "The city laid on a fantastic welcome for us, the weather is beautiful, everything is very neat and tidy and the ice stadium is superb. The organizers have done everything to ensure the participants enjoy a real festival of ice hockey. Everyone is over the moon about the excursions too and we all learned a lot today. I think this will help people unwind after the journey and play the matches in full fighting form. The evening programme includes some tactical preparation exercises, supper and of course a good sleep. The ice battles at the Chizhovka-Arena start tomorrow at 9 a.m.