Thursday, December 10, 2015

How Did Russian Hockey Stars Learn to Play?

After the Soviet union collapsed, the sport of hockey was lost to Russia. Then, Team Russia won the World Championship in 2008, and, once again, children were now following in the footsteps of Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, Artemi Panarin, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Hockey was the most popular sport in the Soviet Union. Everyone wanted to be like the legendary Soviet team, and parents wished their children would follow in the footsteps of Slava Fetisov, Igor Larionov, and their teammates. Starting from the first win in 1954 to 1991 when the U.S.S.R. collapsed, when there were hockey championships, the entire Soviet nations would have their ears glued to the radio or their eyes glued to the TV, anticipating the result. It seemed as if the U.S.S.R. never stepped down from the podium in hockey during these years. 

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, it seemed as if hockey was lost to these nations. From 1993 to 2008, it seemed as if Russia or any of the former Soviet nations could never win a single championship. What had once been the best nation (?) in hockey was now equal to teams below the top five. Team Russia and the rest of the former Soviet nations were suffering embarrassing losses to other team.

Then, in 2008, a new crop of youngsters was rising in Russia. Having gotten just enough experience playing in the NHL, youngsters like Alex Ovechkin, Alex Radulov, and Ilya Kovalchuk, along with veterans like Evgeni Nabokov and Sergei Fedorov, produced the best Russian team since 1993. Suddenly, Russia was centre stage in the World Hockey Championships and they ended up winning the gold. Not just that, but in the same year, the Russian Superleague folded and made way for a new league, the KHL. Interest in hockey came back to life, and now, parents wanted their children to follow the footsteps of Ovechkin, Datsyuk, Malkin, and Bobrovsky. 

Now Russia had to find a way to get enough ice rinks and youth leagues for children to play in, There were only about 30 rinks in Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, St. Petersburg, and other Russian cities, not enough to house the growing number of children wanting to play hockey. 

Today, Russia still needs to tackle these challenges. There are teams with 22 children who rarely have more than one coach, and he struggles to give each child enough ice time. If Russia wants to become a superior hockey nation once more, there are challenges it needs to tackle ahead. 

Nowadays, Russian hockey schools accept children at the age of 4 or 5. These kids have 45-minute training session twice or three times a week. Other than these sessions, they attend individual lessons, where they practise specific techniques, such as skating and stickhandling. Then, when they are 10, they start training daily, and at 12, they train on-ice twice a day.At 16, players can graduate from these schools and sign with a professional team, but the best players are allowed to do so at 13 or 14.

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