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December 20, 2002

Russian Regionsí tournaments produce hockey stars

Note. This interview was originally done at the very beginning of the 02-03 season and unfortunately some days later, the executive director of Region Center league, Mr. Yushin, was dismissed from his obligations and all the staff working with him fired. New officials came in power of Center Region league. So Iíve done minor changes thanks nothing was re-made in the structure by new bosses of the league appointed by Ice Hockey Federation of Russia. Letís hope current bosses will support the ideas of their predecessors and will not ruin the already built structure of producing skillful players like Kovalchuk and Yachmenev.

Many hockey fans know pretty well that in Russian hockey there are two governing bodies: the Ice Hockey Federation of Russia (FHR) and the Professional Hockey League (PHL). The Ice Hockey Federation is the head for all Russian Ice Hockey system. It has got unlimited power in Russia from the International ICE Hockey Federation IIHF. The other governing body, the PHL, is responsible for organizing process of the competitions in the main two elite senior leagues: Superleague (Div 1) and Higher League (Div 2). FHR respectively has all the rights for organizing all the international tournaments no matter if it's senior or junior on the Russian territory. The Ice Hockey Federation of Russia also governs all the other internal state tournaments like Regionsí competition for kids of different ages. To the great disappointment not all the hockey fans are aware of the activity of local Regionsí tournaments held annually in the leading hockey towns of Russia. Itís a kind of QMJHL league in which all the best Russian prospects are involved. Itís exactly in this competition thanks to the people who invented Regionsí tournaments hockey experts scouted the national level playersí crop. Tell me who doesnít know right now the names of such NHLers like Yachmenev and Kovalchuk? Letís take for consideration as an example Region Center of Russia and talk about different Russian Regionsí tournaments with former executive director 1996-2001 of Central Region league Yushin Alexander.

How long ago was the regional hockey tournamentsí system founded?

We were legally formed in 1996 but actually we started our activity in 1995. In the Central region of Russia we are responsible for the 3rd league tournament for the affiliate teams of some of the elite Superleague and Higher League clubs like Dynamo Moscow, Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, Severstal Cherepovets, SKA St.Petersburg etc. The number of teams for 02/03 season is 11. The age of players involved in the competition is usually under-18 or younger. Though limited number of the senior players recovering from injuries from time to time are getting their ice time with juniors. We are also holding competitions for midget ages of kids. This Central league encompasses 8 teams plus different other children tournaments, which we organize for teams representing Center Region, North-West Region, Povolzhye Region etc.

Which place or role is prescribed for Center Region organization within the structure of Ice Hockey Federation of Russia?

Letís start with the structure of FHR. There is Ice Hockey Federation of Russia itself plus regional hockey councils. According to the new regulation itís Moscow Region league, North-West Region league, Center Region league, Povolzhye league, Urals and Western Siberia league, Siberia and Far East league. Regional Hockey councils are formed of the Russiaís regional and republic ice hockey federations. Roughly speaking Region Center league embodies Moscow region of Russia, Yaroslavl region, Tver region, Lipetsk, VoronezhÖ in other words it is 14 regions of the state named Russia. Region North-East league is formed of Arkhangelsk territory region, Murmansk, Komi, Leningrad, Vologda etc. The principle of geographic position is taken into the consideration and it duplicates the Russian Federation formation principle. That is them who are responsible for organizing competitions and different tournaments for the kids and juniors and they are responsible for the final of the Russian Regions among juniors under 15,16 and 17.

Can you tell me which of the leagues can be considered the strongest one?

Itís very difficult to tell exactly. With PHL everything is more or less clear they have Superleague (Div 1) and Higher League (Div 2). We are responsible for Division 3. FHR isnít organizing the final Russian tournament for the best club teams of Div 3. Iíll tell this way, in our Center Region League we have affiliates of elite club teams of Superleague and only few teams are independent of Russian elite clubs because they donít have senior teams of their own in the elite. Itís teams representing Tambov city, Ukhta town, Rybinsk town, St.Peterburg city in the team Izhorets. We wanted to organize the competition for overall Russian best farm teamsí final in Div 3. The proposal stayed without support.

Whatís good was borrowed from the old Soviet Hockey governing system?

In the 1992 when Ice Hockey Federation of Russia was founded we invented the idea of the final collective regions tournament. ItĎs variety of national teams because the same principle of teamsí formation works. Best players from different teams of Region Center league form one team and compete with their rivals representing respectively Region Urals, Povolzye, North-West league etc. Junior national teams existed in the Soviet era but they were together for a much longer period of time preparing for various tournaments if to compare with nowadays collective junior teams which work together not that long as their Soviet predecessors. We were starting with one age group and slowly extended up to three age groups under 15,16 and 17. Yes, itís very difficult because some financial problems still exist. Actually we started experiments of the kind with 1975 birthdates and thatís exactly the time when current NHLer Yachmenev Vitaly and the other kids ignored by Russiaís national team coaches became more or less known among the hockey experts and scouts.

In 1997 new-elected into the Ice Hockey Federation of Russia officials tried to put an end to the final regions tournament. We were told that nobody had enough money for organizing competition of that kind. We representatives of Center Region league actually paid all the expanses for organizing the tournament ourselves later. It was a kind of cut tournament for the juniors born in1983 because only 4 collective teams of regions were represented at the competition. By the way thatís the time when current coach for senior Russiaís national team Mr. Plyuschev was appointed the coach for under-18 Team Russia. He was so fond of the idea that much and worked hard with kids which resulted in the appearance of current NHL super star Ilya Kovalchuk and some other bright NHL drafteesÖ

 Denis Neznanov
HockeyZonePlus' Russian Correspondent


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