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January 30, 2001

The Disaster of the Russian Hockey System

"If t senior national team loses, itís just shameful but when the junior one does the same it already smells like a tragedy of the whole hockey system."

-- Alexander Ragulin
(a defenseman for the 1972 Soviet team that participated in the Summit Games that began 29 years ago).

The whole world already knows that the Russian junior (under 20 years old) National team has totally collapsed and embarrassed itself in front of the home crowd at the World Junior Championship in Moscow.  Has it been just a surprise or this team is doomed to become a failure? Itís difficult to give the exact answer but when looking at the loss of the Russian team, one has to face all the problems that the Russian hockey system has had in the last decade.

How does the Russian hockey system works? Is it capable of producing the next Fetisovs, Fedorovs and Bures? To understand this, letís go to the sources of Russian hockey.

Nearly every Russian hockey city, the ones which has its club team in one of the two main leagues Super and Higher, has its Children Junior Sporting School or, to be more exact, in Russian itís read as Sportivnaya Detsko Yunosheskaya Shkola where children of 7-10 years of age usually put on their skates for the first time in their life. Each year, new pupils are enlisted in Children Junior Sporting School. Itís the parents who bring them there. Nowadays very often itís the parent who is obliged to provide his son with all the necessary costly equipment. The school starts to support an athlete only if the coaches see that the boy is a promising player. Itís a kind of scholarship. After a careful selection, coaches distribute the kids into age groups and on this basis each coach forms the team with which he will work till the moment the children will grew-up into the 17-18 years of age juniors.

Back in the Soviet times, Sportivnaya Detsko Yunosheskaya Shkola had some kind of a North American scouting structure within its system. For example, if a team noticed a crafty guy playing hockey somewhere on the open air rink, they could offer him a tryout with one of the teams of their Children Junior Sporting School. Now, unfortunately, these times have gone. There is less and less outdoor skating rinks and the new generation has other entertainment and enjoyments like, for example, Dandy Play Stations. They do not want to live real life. Itís a pity! Whatís the use of playing in the best case PC hockey at the stuffy apartment for five hours long to the prejudice of your own health?

Letís return to the work of Children Junior Sporting Schools. Do you know the salary of Russian children coach who works with his pupils daily and nightly? I warn you - don't fall down on hearing his total monthly salary! Itís something about 500 roubles. Itís approximately US 16 $. Keep in mind that the price for a cup of coffee in any Moscow cafť is US 2 $. Is it possible to lead a good life or Iíd rather say to survive on these money? For example, in Sweden, coaches for children are the most well-paid and expert people in hockey. Well, unfortunately itís Sweden but not Russia. They have much more modern Ice Arenas and good open air skating rinks. Though, I must say, the situation with the last ones becomes better in and around Moscow due to the great help of the vice mayor of Moscow, Valery Chantsev, who is also the president of Moscow Hockey Federation and the governor of Moscow region Boris Gromov. Ten covered skating rinks have already been built and some more will be built soon. The governor of Moscow region, Boris Gromov, has recently signed a decree to start on building fifteen covered skating rinks in different cities. This should give another great impulse to the development and popularization of ice hockey in the heart of Russia.

The questions arise if Russian system has enough experienced coaches who will teach the kids to play hockey and if the ice time will be properly used at the newly built skating rinks.

The results of the recent unofficial supervision turned out to be very sad. In the November 27, 2000 issue of Russian daily Sport-Express Gennady Andryanov, former player and medallist of Soviet Hockey Championships, has commented on the situation: ďThe main idea of building skating rinks in Moscow has been to provide Children Junior Sporting Schools of Moscow such as Dynamo, CSKA, Spartak with talented youngsters from different faraway districts of the city. In fact the heads of Moscow administrative districts on whose territory the rinks are situated have started to demand quick results and achievements in the Moscow Hockey Championships. The coaches has had nothing to do but to expel some of the kids from the group if the team lost. They say that nothing will come out of the youngster. That means the coach violates the first-born idea for which the skating rinks have been built in Moscow and moreover deprives the guy off the possibility to develop into a healthy man with the help of hockey. To achieve quick success, he just invites to join the team the guys who have already been playing hockey for some years. Itís a kind of illegal replacement. So it comes that the kids who have desire and are still learning to play the game remain without tournament experience. How can they grew up into good athletes in this situation? The roots of excellent idea are cut by such like coaches.ď

Yury Baulin estimates the situation the following way, ďThe coaches prefer to choose the easiest way. They do not want to work with a little kid for many years long. Itís simpler to invite the experienced guy with a hockey foundation laid somewhere at the Children Junior Sporting Schools of Elektrostal, Voskresensk, Tver or even St. Petersburg. After it good result promises to come very soon. Everyone will be satisfied and start to clap its hands. So it comes that strangers compete in the Moscow Hockey Championships but not the Moscow born kids.Ē

Now on the question of coaching selection, Yury Baulin, the medallist of World Championships and Olympic Games, goes on, ďI can not tell about all of them but there are some by whose methods of working with the kids Iíve been simply horrified.  They have neither hockey nor pedagogical education. Here is an example for you. The ice practice comes to the end and the kids take off their skates for off-ice training and then the coach demands of them to run five kilometers. How could he make the kids accomplish such a hard work? Another bad example. The coach makes his team of 10-year old kids to leave the ice because he is not agree with referees decision. Whatís the use of his caprice? He deliberately spits on the hard work of his guys during many ice practices not letting the boys to change the situation into their favour.Ē

So now letís build the chain of hockey systemís work to give the clear idea of how a child becomes a hockey player in Russia. Any neighboring hockey school with a roofed skating rink may serve the first link of the chain. Sportivnaya Detsko Yunosheskaya Shkola which is bounded to the second and first club teams like Dynamo Moscow is the second link. We have already touched upon the problems of the first link of the chain so now we may pass on to the second one.

What distincts Children Junior Sporting School from any hockey school with a roofed skating rink? The basic principles of its work are nearly the same. Though children of Sportivnaya Detsko Yunosheskaya Shkola are more privileged. Usually more experienced coaches work with youngsters there. Children have considerable chances to be noticed by the coaches of the main club team of the Higher League or Superleague and to join it in a few years if their play is good enough and they go on to progress.

Here we come closer and closer to the failures of Russian hockey system during the last decade at many international tournaments and at the recent WJC in particular. Some Russiaís hockey greats and experts state that the system itself is corrupted in many aspect of hockey business. Letís try to clear up what they has meant by saying this.

Vyacheslav Anisin, three times world champion 1973-75, being interviewed recently by Center TV channel has touched upon the problem of rough physical manner of playing hockey which is not typical of Soviet/Russian style, ďI very often see that there is lots of pushing, slashing and spearing in the contemporary Russian children hockey.  I realize that each time the kids step onto the ice they risk to break their neck during the game. To do a perfect bodycheck they should first learn to learn good skating. In Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, USA and Canada physical presence is allowed only when the kids are fourteen years of age and thatís quite right. Moreover he has mentioned that bribing is flourishing. There are some young players in the Russian Superleague who couldnít have the slightest chance to make the top teams if they have been playing in the Soviet times. Though he has diplomatically refused to name them.ď

Three weeks after the JWC, the veterans of Soviet/Russian hockey, Vyacheslav Anisin, Yury Blinov, Vladimir Golikov and Alexander Gusev, have worked out a project which has been directed to Alexander Rozhkov who is the chairman of the state committee of Russian Federation responsible for physical training, sports and tourism. It has also been supported by the group of parents whose children play hockey in Moscow schools. They have tried to find out the reasons of Russian national team ugly performance in it what should be done to change the situation in hockey system.

Here what they propose in their letter to Mr. Rozhkov, ďTo solve the problem we witnessed at the recent WJC we simply should abandon physical presence in our kidsí hockey. Below are given six arguments in favour of the development of Russian hockey.Ē

First, the young kids who are excellent skaters will get the chance to be brought to the forefront. This fact will allow them to improve considerably their stickhandling, shots at goal and to become better in one on one situations.

Second,  the methods for coaching a kid in Children Junior Sporting Schools will also be rethought. The accent will be shifted to the basic hockey techniques and passing-oriented game. As a result of it Russian hockey will get the next Maltsevs, Kharlamovs and Makarovs.

Third, traumatism will be considerably reduced. There will not be such a silly attitude towards hockey when the coach demands of his players to injure the leaders of the opponentsí team by all means. Itís also asked to pay attention to the figures of traumatism in kidsí hockey. Itís underlined that nobody of the Children Junior Sporting Schools officials has ever interested in these figures. Thatís the parents who insure their kids and take care of them but not the Moscow Hockey Federation.

Fourth, the end will be put to the relation of god-parent to parent relation. Some young players whose parents give them money will be of no importance any more because they usually have the lack of skills but demonstrate a simple aggressive and rough hockey with lots of violations of the game rules. A real fair competitiveness will appear at once. If any parent pays then he agrees that his kid is very weak in fact. I should also notice that itís prestigious to play in the jersey of the legendary hockey club or a national team and thatís explains the case of bribing in Russian hockey.

Fifth,  the dynamism of the game will increase many times and the results will cheer the kids and the parents.

Sixth,  the quality of refereeing should also become better. Referees will have no a card to play for changing the situation into anybodyís favor. Today they make their decisions as they will or as they are asked to do. If there is no  physical presence in the game then there is nothing to do for him but to allow the goals, register icings and off sides.

There are lots of positive moments in the abandonment of physical presence and there is no negative ones.

One of the main problems is that coaches for kids are very low-paid persons.

There are solutions to that problem.  Itís necessary to have a system which will guarantee the first coach a reward for upbringing a crafty player if the last one is offered to sign a contract with any team of the Superleague or Higher League. If the player signs another contract, the first coach should get again his percent from the total amount of the deal. The coach will be interested to work more productively. The more young world-class players will join the teams of Superleague, the more money coaches will make. Itís a fair system.

Unfortunately, today's Russian hockey has no new bright names as they all try to leave for NHL as soon as they can. In Russia, even well-to-do clubs acquire the same players who transfer from one team to another each new season. If Russian hockey didn't have such a great exodus from the country, we would not have so many problems. If players were playing in Russia at least until age 22, we could have the strongest championships in the world. One of the main reasons of Russia's bad performance has been the missing of skillful nineteen years of age players. Most players were 17 and 18.  Luckily enough, the old deal with the NHL expires this coming June and the Europeans are demanding a bigger share of the pie when it comes to payments for transfers of players from European leagues to the NHL. 

ďOur hockey is still one of the best in the world despite the recent ugly performance of our junior team. After all Russian juniors are still in great demand by many NHL clubs. Moreover our national team has been the strongest one at the several recent World Junior Championships and many international tournaments. We have lots of talented youngsters. The question is: when will we become the champions of the world again. I think it will happen already in the nearest future,Ē Vasily Pervukhin, 1984 Olympic Champion and six time world champion, has resumed.  

Denis Neznanov
HockeyZonePlus' Russian Correspondent


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