EKATERINBURG, RUSSIA – We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
Welcome to the home city of Pavel Datsyuk and, more specifically, the Kurganovo Complex, which sits about 20 minutes outside of town down an unassuming side road lined by open land and small clusters of shanties with makeshift sheet metal fences.
The area itself reminds you of cottage country, with its rough roads, lakes, pines and secluded lifestyle, but it’s a whole other world out here, a whole other continent on the eastern slope of the Ural mountain range. On the drive out from town to the complex, you pass a large marker that represents the end of Europe and the beginning of Asia.
As one of the stewards on the plane we took from Frankfurt to Ekaterinburg said when we told him why we were going to this destination: “That’s a strange place to go for a hockey camp.”
EKATERINBURG, RUSSIA – The language barrier here is thick, but it doesn’t stand in the way of the English instructors connecting with their Russian students and vice versa.
As Day 1 of the PD13 Hockey School took off Monday, the 80 kids were split into two groups – one of youngsters and one of the slightly older ones.
When asked which day of the camp was his favorite, Datsyuk answered and couldn’t help but show a small piece of his always-joking personality.
“My f…? Day off,” he said with a wry smile and a brief pause. “No it’s the first day, starting day, seeing lots of new kids. It’s new for them and they’re shy, but some kids when they get to their second camp they’re really open and they like it more and more.”
The first thing to note is the fact there are 11 instructors on the ice for about 30 kids. The second thing is how vocal all of the guys in red tracksuits are throughout each drill, despite the language divide. There's stick-slapping to urge players to finish a drill hard, body language to get players to keep their heads up when carrying the puck, and high-fives, fist-pumps and head-pats that reward the mostly mullet-topped kids.
EKATERINBURG, RUSSIA - The rain fell hard and the thunder sounded Monday night at the Kurganovo Complex after a loud first day of workouts at the PD13 hockey school. It was an early, overcast morning after a long, gruelling session the day before, so the challenge Tuesday for the instructors was to make sure the kids were involved and active right from the get-go.
Enter Jeremy Clark, professional trainer, off-ice director at the camp and owner of the Minnesota Top Team facility. Clark specializes in MMA-style training and did some fighting of his own. But the type of workouts he swears by are valuable to hockey, which makes him a key piece of this team.
“When he comes to Minnesota, Pav always drops me a text and we go out and grab a coffee and that matters to me a ton,” Clark said.
EKATERINBURG, RUSSIA – Pavel Datsyuk may be one of the NHL’s premier skating talents, but here at the PD13 hockey school there’s also a place for goalies.
Taking charge of this aspect of the camp is the laid back Petter Sandstrom, a professional Swedish goaltender with Troja-Ljungby of the Allsvenskan circuit, one level below the Swedish Elite League. When the skaters are doing drills that don’t involve netminders, Petter and his students head off to their corner of the rink with translator (and our photographer for the week) Masha Leonova, to work on the fundamentals of the position.
Petter cites Stefan Persson, goalie coach of AIK, as his inspiration. When working with Persson in the past, Petter says he learned a lot from the coach who gave him insights into positioning he had “never thought of before.” AIK has a rich goaltending tradition, with such names as Miikka Kiprusoff and Tim Thomas spending time there.
Wednesday started with the young group and before hitting the ice the two goalies, Artem and Vladimir, were pulled into the dressing room for a quick video issued by the Swedish Hockey Federation that Petter uses to preview what they’ll be working on during the session. Today the focus began with backing-up and pushing-off one leg to get to the post in the butterfly position.
Part IV. I know CB can't wait for the next installment.
EKATERINBURG, RUSSIA – So far at the PD13 camp, the kids have been put through countless drills on and off the ice. The entire program is designed to work on attributes that have made Pavel Datsyuk one of the world’s best players: puck protection, stickhandling, skating, body positioning, etc.
The only thing missing at this point is the NHL experience and the kids are about to dive into that aspect on Friday, with an authentic team draft setting the stage the day before.
The schedules on the second-last day of the camp ran as usual and even began to swerve towards the physical components of the game. But it was at the end of the second practice when the mood began to shift to game day. The players gathered around a table that was placed at center ice and coaches were assigned to the two teams that will face off Friday afternoon: The Banditos and The Torpedoes.
EKATERINBURG, RUSSIA - Hello Russia and hockey fans in the Baltic states and Kazakhstan…
Welcome to game day at PD13. The drills and training are complete and the draft is behind us, so on Friday it was time for The Banditos and The Torpedoes to hit the ice and face off for the Pavel Datsyuk Cup. A metallic replica of the Stanley Cup, you won’t be able to drink out of this chalice as it’s topped with a strainer.
All day, both squads were eager to chant the name of their team in unison, whether it was on the walk down to the soccer field in the morning or heading out onto the ice in the afternoon. They were now part of a team: a message the camp was determined to get across as a chief reason why hockey is such an easy sport to fall in love with.