The long-awaited Week of Hockey Stars in Ufa opened on the 15th of January with the Challenge Cup between West and East of the Youth Hockey League. The youngsters of the West secured victory, and a special panel of experts chose four players whose performances merited an additional prize – a place in the KHL All-Star Game. They were Kirill Tsulygin (Tolpar), Anton Kovalyov (Omsk Hawks), Andrei Altiparmakyan (SKA-Silver Lions), and Pavel Podluboshnov (Red Army).
Meanwhile, finishing touches are being made to preparations for the biggest feast of hockey on the season calendar, and the captains who will lead the four Divisionteams have been appointed:.
Bobrov Division: Pavel Datsyuk (SKA Saint Petersburg)
Tarasov Division: Maxim Afinogenov (Vityaz Moscow region)
Kharlamov Division: Sergey Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk)
Chernyshev Division: Evgeny Medvedev (Avangard Omsk)
The “awesome foursome” spoke to KHL.ru about captaining their Divisions, their expectations of the All-Star Game, and what surprises may await the fans.
Kharlamov Division captain Sergei Mozyakin has played in every KHL All-Star Game, and with 30 points (22+8) points is far and away the event’s top scorer. Mozyakin, with admirable modesty, confessed he did not know about his scoring records, but was looking forward to the contest.
“I only have good feelings about participating in the All-Star Game. This will be my ninth in a row, and I hope it will be the same as ever: seeing old friends, a festive atmosphere, a full stadium, and great support from the fans. It’s also a handy break from the regular season, so you can recharge your batteries a little and then return to the fray refreshed and full of strength. It's great for me to captain my Division because we have quite a contingent from Metallurg, headed by Ilya Vorobyov. We will try to give a worthy performance in Ufa. This year we have a new format for the All-Star Game and I think it's the right one. It puts more focus on sporting prowess, and all the players will strive to do their best.
I'm the top scorer in All-Star Games? I never knew, until now (smiling). I do not closely follow the statistics, and I don’t pick out any single goal from all the others. But don’t ask about our planning – we’ll have to improvise on the spot. We just don't know what they’ll make the captains do this time – maybe get us to dance like Kovalchuk and Morozov a few years ago (laughter). What would I wish for personally in the All-Star Game? Probably to go out onto the ice with my son. And to have the All-Star Game held in Magnitogorsk.”
Bobrov Division captain Pavel Datsyuk recalled his very first All-Star Game, back when it was strange for him to be around international hockey stars, and spoke of what other cities he would like to see host the big event.
“There’ll be a lot of emotion – it’s a celebration for the fans and I’m delighted I will be taking part. I want to perform well of course. With a team from each Division it will be like mini-playoffs, and it’s a new format for me. From experience, I can say that it should raise the competitive interest: and splitting the teams into Divisions will make it more entertaining for the fans. The players will be fighting for victory.
The most vivid memory from my past All-Star Games? I Think it’s when I was chosen for my first one, and I had many positive emotions but they were mixed with a bit of fear – after all, it was unusual for me to be mingling with international stars. But overall it was a pleasant experience. As for planning some “stunts,” I haven’t thought about it yet. I am sure there will be some great hockey, and that’s the most important stunt. With what do I associate Ufa? A nice city with great people, the monument to Salavat, and Bashkir honey. Which other cities would I like to stage the All-Star Game? Probably Saint Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Kazan.”
Tarasov Division captain Maxim Afinogenov is ready to show off his speed and to take part in any competition. He has pleasant memories of Ufa as the venue of a treasured victory early in his career.
“Since I'm now captain, I guess I can banish players to the bench for playing badly (laughter), but seriously, it is always a pleasure simply to participate in the All-Star Game. To be the captain of the team makes it doubly pleasant.
The new format? Why not? Everything evolves, nothing stands still, so why not try a tournament of four Division teams? Maybe it will make it much more interesting, and the players will be more competitive. We are all athletes who want to win. Viewers will see a high tempo and there’ll be more excitement. Personally, I’m keen to demonstrate my speed. Will I come up with something unusual? Perhaps I’ll think of something when I get to Ufa, or maybe I can find inspiration in my memories of previous events. This will be my third All-Star Game, and each was interesting in its own way. I’m pretty happy to take part in any of the skills competition events, but maybe all the places are taken, and in any case, no-one will listen to me (laughter). Overall, though, the All-Star Game is the kind of event where everyone wants to show their good side, to demonstrate good puck control, and to produce great shots – anything we can do to please the fans. It is a show, before anything else.
As for the host city, I have very good memories of Ufa. A long time ago, I think it was back in 1996, we won the European Junior Hockey Championship, which was one of the first big international tournaments of my career. Since then, it has always been a pleasure to come to Ufa – it is a great stadium and the fans are very sporting.”
For Chernyshev Division captain Evgeny Medvedev, the forthcoming All-Star Game will be the fourth of his career. He is confident we will see even more goals than in previous years, and that is not all - He says there is a surprise in store for the fans.
“Playing in such matches is always a source of pleasure and pride. I will be taking part in my fourth All-Star Game, but the feeling, I am sure, will still be different than before. Ufa for me, first and foremost, means the "Green Derby" between Salavat Yulaev and Ak Bars, and I spent eight years at Kazan. What I remember most are the fans and the terrific atmosphere, so I am sure the All-Star Game will be a success.
For me, each event produces something memorable. In one we had Konstantin Barulin in his gladiator costume, in another there was Ilya Kovalchuk ice dancing with the figure-skater, and then we had the guys dreaming up all these original things for the shootout. I Think this year’s All-Star Game will live long in the memory, if only because it’s the first time the event will be played as a mini-tournament. And why not? It will be more entertaining, and a festival is an occasion for the fans. I imagine there’ll be even more goals than in previous years. As for me, I’m already planning some surprises, although it depends on what contest I’ll be selected for, but don’t put me in the shootout! I know our task is to entertain, but that’s for the forwards. We defensemen know our place.”