The most important trophy of the Kontinental Hockey League took in the sights of Kazan on its free day between Games 1 and 2 of the final series.
On Friday, the Gagarin Cup boarded the train in Moscow and set off for Kazan to attend Game 1 of the final series of this 10th KHL Championship, contested by Ak Bars and CSKA. On the day of the opening game, which ended in a 2-1 victory for the host, the trophy only had a fleeting glimpse of the city as it sped from the Central Station to the Tatneft Arena.
For the Gagarin Cup, April 15 in Kazan began with a visit to the Ak Bars children's hockey school. The lessons, for children born in 2009, weregradually winding down when the surprise visitor appeared on the ice: the most coveted trophy of the KHL. It is hard to describe, but doubtless easy to imagine the joyful commotion which erupted when these wide-eyed youngsters spotted the Gagarin Cup.
Team coach Alexander Mityagin had prepared well for the event, and had taken a flexible approach to the day's learning so that this special occasion would pass without a hitch. He listened carefully to the all the requests from photographer Andrei Golovanov, who needed to play the part of a theater director to ensure the most professional results. In all, the Cup spent about an hour being pictured with Tatarstan's young stars of the future. and their parents.
The children, in turn, expressed their gratitude, spoke of how their encounter with the trophy had given their motivation an additional boost, how they look up to today's heroes in the current Ak Bars team, for example, Vladimir Tkachyov and Justin Azevedo, and how they hoped the Gagarin Cup would remain in Kazan for the coming year.
Coach Alexander Mityagin said:
– For the children, the arrival of the Cup stirred up a whirlwind of emotions, but happily, all of them got at least a touch on the trophy, and some patted it, whispered to it, and dreamed of winning it. For a hockey player, the Gagarin Cup is like the Holy Grail. We found out about this visit only yesterday, but we still had 100% attendance.
We need events such as these at every club and in all our cities, as they provide a lot of the motivation the kids need, and this aids further development. Now they see with their own eyes what they are aiming for. It has the same effect on us coaches, giving us the will to improve and develop.
Gagarin Street became the next destination for the trophy of the same name. Recently, at one of the bus stops lining this street there appeared a mural,depicting Yury Gagarin and the bearing the message “Yura, thank you for the Cosmos!” This image became popular across social networks, even tempting a resident of Moscow, one Sergei, to travel all the way to Kazan for the privilege of taking a selfie at the site. His timing was perfect, as his arrival coincided with the visit of the Gagarin Cup.
Irina Bochkova, the head of Kazan's Kirovsky and Moskovsky district' administration, said:
– There used to be another mural featuring Gagarin, but it was painted over. We always hold some events on April 12 – last year there was a flash mob,for example – and so we decided to dedicate the bus stop to the great man, so that everyone would know of the Gagarin Street stop. This mural has aroused a great deal of interest among young people, including across the social networks, and we will continue to promote the theme. This is just the beginning.
The rest of the day was spent around a very famous site in Kazan, the heart of the city – the Kremlin. Not far from its walls we find the Kremlin metro station entrance, adorned with a sculpture of Zilant the Dragon. Zilant is a hero of many Tatar legends and fairy tales, and his image is on the coat of arms of the city and on the emblem of the famous Kazan football club, Rubin. Not far from Zilant is a monument to the philanthropist, Asgat Galimcanov, who organized and provided helped for orphans, and for other victims of accidents disasters, or tragedies, throughout the Republic of Tatarstan.
At the Kremlin itself, we encounter the beautiful Qol Sharif mosque. Its construction was completed in 2005, the year in which the city of Kazan celebrated its 1,000th anniversary. During its visit to this famous site (and indeed, famous sight), the Gagarin Cup is seen enjoying unprecedented popularity. Young girls in traditional costume decided to accompany the glittering trophy in the daytime sunshine.
One of the most intriguing and mysterious places in the Kremlin is the Soyembika Tower, one those famous “leaning” structures which fascinate tourists and scholars alike. It is still unclear when exactly the Tower was built, with some claiming it existed during the Kazan Khanate, while others suggest it was constructed after the city fell to the forces of Ivan the Terrible. The tower features ornate swinging doors, which depict the sun and the moon.
The Gagarin Cup ended its short tour of Kazan with a rest on the Kremlin Embankment, a relatively recent addition to the city, and it was soon joined by many delighted locals eager to be photographed with the famous visitor. For over two hours, more than a thousand people accepted this chance to be pictured with the biggest prize in the KHL, before steeling their nerves for Monday's Game 2 of the final series.