Iron Kurtain Kids

By Mark Tabrum and Al Bloomer

Imagine being told your son or daughter was washed up by the time he or she reached 10 years of age and had no future in hockey. Most parents and late bloomers would find that to be unfathomable, but that’s what happens when you play youth hockey in Russia.

Youth hockey teams are part of a feeder program for professional clubs that are owned and administered by teams in the Russian Professional Elite League. Russian hockey is based on skill development, advancing to the next level and ultimately playing for the professional team someday.

Players are grouped by birth year. A player can move to an older birth year only if he passes evaluation and testing. No matter how good a player may be, he cannot move up more than two birth years.

The clubs are open to any 5- or 6-year-old who wants to play. With an emphasis on skating, players will spend the first year skating without a stick and do not play any games. Clubs usually have between 60 and 70 skaters in this group.

By the time a player is 7 years old he is evaluated and tested. Teams begin to play games, between 10 and 15 games on a short ice surface using a lightweight puck.

When a player is 10 years old, he is tested and those that do not meet the standard that’s been set by the club are dismissed. The club will typically keep between 25 and 30 players. Those who are not selected could try another (less competitive) club or drop out of hockey all together.

A player must provide his own equipment, and parents may pay a nominal fee for ice time. Once a player reaches the age of 10, the club picks up all costs.

Despite an emphasis on skill development, Russians do not play club hockey year round. There are summer camps, but the clubs encourage their players to train off ice and play other sports to improve athleticism.

The Russians have issues with parents as well as the concern for cost, just like we do in USA Hockey. They want to grow their numbers but availability of rinks and ice time are issues.

There are 168 indoor rinks, but changes in weather patterns have greatly reduced the number of outdoor rinks.

Another issue in Moscow is traffic congestion and the ability of parents to get young players to the rink, which tends to force players to play for the club nearest their home.

According to our hosts, only a handful of clubs have programs for girls.  The Spartak club has a girls’ training program, so some of the more talented girls migrate there.

American Coaches Caught In Carousel

Tony GranatoTony GranatoMeet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

For the second time in six years, Tony Granato is back behind the bench as the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche.

Granato, who has worked as an assistant coach with the Avalanche since being replaced by Joel Quenneville four years ago, is one of three American-born coaches to find themselves on the NHL coaching carousel this summer.

In Tampa, the axe finally fell on John Tortorella, who coached the Lightning to the Stanley Cup four years ago. And Ron Wilson, who was released from his head coaching post with the San Jose Sharks after another Stanley Cup run cut short, takes over as the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Coach Q&A

Scott Sandelin
Head Coach,
University of Minnesota-Duluth

What was the driving force that got you into coaching?
I think a lot of it had to do with working at hockey camps in the summer when I was still playing, and being around the kids, working with them and teaching them a few things. I really enjoyed that.

You’ve played for a lot of coaches. Does any coach stand out above all the rest as someone you tried to pattern your coaching style after?
I was fortunate to play for a lot of different coaches in my career. I think you take a little bit from all of them, from youth hockey all the way up. Probably the entire coaching staff when I was at North Dakota (Gino Gasparini, Dean Blais and John Marks) was the most influential and instrumental in helping me as both a player and a coach.

How would you describe your coaching philosophy?
You have to be a little bit flexible, especially at our level because every year it changes a little bit. I have a pretty simple philosophy of hard work, teamwork and having a good work ethic and being passionate about what you do.

What keeps you coming to the rink every day?
Watching young players come in as freshman and growing into not only better hockey players but better people and walking out of here with an education, that’s the most rewarding thing.

I also enjoy the continual process of learning. You learn from your players, you learn from other coaches. I think that’s what motivates me because I want to get better so I can make our players better.

– Harry Thompson



Who is your favorite American player?
Auston Matthews
Jason Robertson
Tage Thompson
Matthew Tkachuk
Patrick Kane
Total votes: 393