Relegation for losing teams, military style obstacle courses, training in acrobatics? Is minor hockey really that different in Russia? While keeping in mind that rules and practises different from area to area, Elite Level Hockey asked Nikolai Salov — who came to Canada as a teenager after learning how to play hockey in Russia — to describe minor hockey in his native country.
At what age did kids start playing in Russia?
SOLOV: I was 4 years old. All the practices for that team — roller blades in the summer and hockey skates in the winter time — they were teaching us fundamental skills for hockey and physical activity.
What is a typical practice like in Russian youth hockey?
SOLOV: Starting very young, we had an hour to hour-and-a-half skates and a lot of off-ice physical activity which involved stuff like pushups squats core and etc. alongside with playing bit of other sports like soccer, basketball and handball. We also had mandatory acrobatics in our facility mainly for injury prevention.
Are there hockey camps that Russian players attend?
SOLOV: Starting at the age of 12, my team would go out of town for a pre-season training camp for two weeks every summer. Practicing there for three times a day (1 skate, 2 off ice) and without seeing parents or family. Some dryland training days could involve sprints, exercises on the hill (running up, jumping up hill), long distance runs (6km-10km), obstacle course training in military style. Weather conditions were usually ignored so I had to do it in the rain, storm and even hail.
We only could eat what given at the camp; dietary, healthy meal which weren’t as tasty as regular food at home. All unhealthy snacks brought from outside the camp were taken.
In Canada there are various levels such as AAA, AA, house league etc and kids tend to play for their hometown team. Is it similar in Russia?
SOLOV: It is a pretty similar system based on levels of team for youth hockey in Russia, but first teams have to qualify for being a AAA, AA or A team. Also, teams had chances to move up from AA to AAA and opposite if they were first or last in their division. Sometimes there were different teams for different age groups, but the teams like mine affiliated with a KHL organization were usually the top team. For example: Akbars Kazan, Niftehimic Nizhnekamsk were the other teams in our group.
Are tournaments part of competition in Russian youth hockey?
SOLOV: Tournaments are a big part of competition in Russian hockey. Most of those tournaments I got to play against teams outside of our group such as Dynamo Moscow, Spartak Moscow, CSKA Moscow and even teams from outside of Russia. The most memorable tournament I participated in was Tretyak’s Cup in Moscow where my team ended up getting bronze medal and we received them from legendary goalie (Vladislav Tretiak) himself.
Do you notice a difference between what skills are focused on in Canada vs. Russia?
SOLOV: Both countries have different player development. In Canada, coaches focus on skills separately and one at a time (skating, shooting, stickhandling). Russian hockey focuses more on physical strength at youth and minor hockey, especially that game is played on bigger ice surface. Despite that, Canadian hockey is more physical and you can even find smallest guys go for hits.