It’s not long since the Pyramid mall in Kazan was hosting the celebrations after Ak Bars won its third Gagarin Cup. Now it was home to another parade of hockey legends, this time on the red carpet ahead of the weekend’s All-Star action. Among the big names on view was Danis Zaripov, a five-time Gagarin Cup champion.
“I hope we can put on a real feast of emotions for hockey fans. From our club we also have Vladislav Podyapolsky here; so far I’ve not really said anything to him, I’m just letting him soak up the atmosphere. On Saturday we’ll have a meeting, veterans and rookies. He’s really taken off this season and now the main thing is to remind him not to crash and burn like some other guys in the past.
“Tomorrow there’s also a veterans’ game and I’ll be lining up with Sergei Zinoviev and Alexei Morozov again. To be honest, I’m more worried about that than anything else. I’ve no idea what kind of shape the guys will be in and I can only hope that they’ve been missing their hockey and are ready to get out on the ice and show that they’ve still got it.”
Last year’s All-Star Game in Astana began with hockey stars as superheroes. Soon we would discover what Tatarstan had in mind for us. But first, the official start of the festivities.
Our hosts, Rayana Akhmetzyanova and Alexander Kuzmak welcomed to the stage the President of the Republic of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov and KHL President Dmitry Chernyshenko.
“It’s a great honor for us to host a major event like the All-Star Week,” said Minnikhanov. “The response in our three host cities has shown once again how much we love our hockey here in Tatarstan. Ak Bars has won three Gagarin Cups, our sports schools are nurturing the next generation. We have 43 rinks with three more on the way. These are in use all day, every day and I’m sure that after this week we will see even more children and adults wanting to come and play hockey. I’d like to thank Dmitry Chernyshenko for giving us the opportunity to host this festival and welcome IIHF President Rene Fasel to Tatarstan.”
The first surprise of the evening duly followed. The KHL President was presented with a medal by the President of the Republic in honor of his work towards the socio-economic development of Tatarstan.
“I don’t know what to say, apart from a huge thank you to Tatarstan and its officials,” said Dmitry Chernyshenko. “It’s an unexpected pleasure. But this is only the start and we still have work to do. Today we have very many VIP guests and the most important are our players, coaches and partners. Our shared love of hockey, the leading game in our country, brings us all together. It’s symbolic that we have gathered here in the hospitable lands of Tatarstan, where we always enjoy visiting. And not just for the great food and pretty girls but, most of all, because Tatarstan is one of Russia’s sporting capitals with a fantastic infrastructure. It’s no coincidence that last year we chose this region from a shortlist of strong candidates to host the All-Star Week.”
“I can’t deny it. Tatarstan has exceeded our wildest expectations. Three cities across the region have staged events within the All-Star Week. We’ve seen many families bringing their children to be a part of it. I’m confident that everything has been done to the highest standards.
The formalities were over – it was time for a few surprises
“Not only is Tatarstan a major hockey center in Russia, it’s also one of our most innovative regions and home to many scientific complexes including the unique Innopolis. So, we wanted to make a connection between science and hockey and welcome you all to the Academy of Hockey Sciences!”
The presenters’ words caused a ripple of surprise. Sure, today’s hockey would be unimaginable without state-of-the-art technology. But how could scientific rigor be brought to the festive atmosphere of the All-Star Week?
Who teaches and studies at the Academy of Hockey Sciences? As it turns out, a wealth of experts in various fields.
“In all seriousness we can say that the best players of the KHL are now gathered here in Kazan. At times, the most skilful hockey players seem to do thing that run counter to the laws of science. But hockey science, like any other, never stands still. What was fantastic yesterday is becoming reality today. And these stars are the men who turn science fiction into fact,” said Kuzmak as he invited our first scientists to the stage. They proved to be specialists in physics and, specifically, physical education.
It’s hard to argue. Nikita Tryamkin really is a force of physical power. Igor Bobkov generates great acceleration for foreign bodies that come too close to his net and fellow goalie Magnus Hellberg fully lives up to the physics implied in his name as he magnetizes the puck.
“At last year’s All-Star Game I got behind the TV cameras. I need to think of something new for this year,” Tryamkin said. “The Hardest Shot? Maybe I have a chance this year. Patrik Hersley couldn’t make it, so maybe someone else will get a chance. It great just to be sharing a locker room with guys like Zaropiv, Mozyakin, Bilyaletdinov. I’m sure I’ll learn plenty and maybe some of that title-winning experience can rub off on me.”
“It’s great that Bauer made me a special kit for the All-Star Game,” said Igor Bobkov. “I picked it up yesterday, everything’s ready and you’ll get to see it on Saturday. The All-Star Game is a big deal for the players as well: it’s a chance to unwind a bit, get to know the guys from other teams, players and coaches, even to talk to the press.”
From physics to chemistry. The importance of ‘chemistry’, within a team or an individual line, is often touched on by players and coaches. Most frequently, it’s mentioned in respect of centers – and they were the next part of today’s science lesson.
Andrei Loktionov, the catalyst of the offense; Alexander Barabanov, an expert on the table of hockey elements; Ilya Zubov, a reagent of team chemistry with a view to fuelling a playoff push. The players’ stats confirm why they were chosen.
Amid all this science, don’t forget the hockey! But how can we forget, especially when once again we have four ladies behind the benches who nobody could take their eyes off. Once again, they will be in traditional work clothes for their coaching roles over the weekend (although, let’s wait and see, anything is possible at the All-Star Game) but today they arrived in all their glory – the girls who are assisting our head coaches.
First onstage was Maria Bass, assistant to Bob Hartley at Team Chernyshev. Before the game, she told us that she could speak with the players in three languages, but would only praise them in French. And today, we heard how it might be. Maria spoke in French and the voiceover translated amid peals of laughter. “Your play has them falling at your feet like autumn leaves on the Champs-Elysees, your stick-handling is as beautiful as a song by Aznavour.”
“Everything in our lives is science,” Maria said as she came to the stage. “We cannot escape physics and chemistry, and hockey is also a science. Our chemistry is the atmosphere in our locker rooms, which inspires us to victory and helps us enjoy the grand show that is the KHL All-Star Game.”
Soon it was time for another lesson – in geometry. Without geometry, we would lose so much hockey terminology – no face-off ‘circle’, no shots from ‘tight angles’, not to mention no video cube.
So who are our Euclids and Pythagorases of hockey? Lauris Darzins, an expert in the geometry of the power play, Dmitry Kagarlitsky, a connoisseur of the angles of special teams, Alex Grant, master of the counter attacking vector, Vadim Shipachyov, professor of the angled pass, and Nikita Gusev, an all-round geometry whizz-kid.
And what of electronics, without which hockey would lack its vital spark? Of course, the leading goal-getters of the KHL. Kirill Kaprizov, the final connection in a goalscoring circuit; Juuso Puustinen, an expert in charging the net; Stephane Da Costa, compatriot of the great Ampere; and Nigel Dawes, who simply electrifies all.
What else can we learn at the Academy of Hockey Sciences? There are still more technical disciplines – biology, psychology – and even the humanities, from law to history. These too have their devotees among our hockey stars.
For example, three goalies. Lars Johansson cannot be pushed out of shape by any force, physical or psychological; Juha Metsola loves hard rock and fights through the hardest battles; Jakub Kovar is a proven reliever of tensions in those around him.
Or how about Vladislav Gavrikov, who needs no other material evidence of his effectiveness in the eyes of the law; Vitaly Kravtsov, already legally competent at a young age; Philip Larsen, adapted to any environment; or Viktor Antipin, an example of biological protection.
On to seismology, where Darren Dietz causes hockey upheavals and Alexander Yelesin makes opponents quake. And history, where Danis Zaripov lightly bears the weight of hockey history while Sergei Mozyakin writes new chapters in the annals of the KHL.
One after another, the remaining girls came to the stage. Darya Mironova, in contrast to Maria Bass, demonstrated how she could bawl out her goalies in English if they allowed any soft goals. We might not see much scoring in this year’s All-Star Game – who wants to hear about an incompetent pad-wearer from the lips of a beautiful blonde? Evgeny Golovina attempted to express herself solely through gestures, while Natalya Klark’s intense discussions with the hosts showed that strength of mind is the key quality of any coach.
With all the titles awarded, it was time to enrol four new students into the Academy. The stars of last week’s Challenge Cup in Nizhnekamsk were ready to matriculate. But this draft process was a little bit different. Instead of choosing players by name, the coaches were only given their vital statistics.
Ilya Vorobyov, Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, Bob Hartley and Igor Nikitin made their choices looking only at the numbers. And then the team captains – all goalies this year – welcomed the new players to the roster.
Julius Hudacek approved the choice of his coach and put a Team Bobrov jersey on Kirill Marchenko. For Team Kharlamov, Jakub Kovar planned to pair Arsen Khisamutdinov with Nikita Tryamkin. “Oh!” exclaimed Igor Bobkov, leading Mark Verba to his Team Chernyshev colleagues; Konstantin Barulin welcomed Anton Vasiliev to Team Tarasov.
“I’m really glad to join this team,” said Kirill Marchenko. “I know a few of these guys because we play within the same organization. I learned a lot of new stuff from today’s presentation, it was a really interesting idea. If I had to pick my own science, I’d like to go for the geometry of the pass. I’ve had a bit of time for it to sink in, but I’m still a bit nervous about playing in the All-Star game with players like these. I’ve watched them on TV for years so its amazing to find myself alongside them.”
The teams are ready, the big event lies ahead. And it all starts on Saturday at the 11th KHL All-Star Game.