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THN in Russia with Pavel Datsyuk: The final showdown

Smiles were on the faces of all the kids on the last day, win or lose. (Photo by Masha Leonova)

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Smiles were on the faces of all the kids on the last day, win or lose. (Photo by Masha Leonova)

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.

Friday was all about NHL simulation. From being shown how to properly set up their equipment in the dressing room to the pep talk before the game, it was about as authentic as it could get for the kids.

Just like in the NHL, the pucks were stacked and the kids stormed the ice to “Thunderstruck.” After a brief warmup, player introductions were carried over the loudspeaker. The parents lining the railing along the top concourse were amped up just as much as the youngsters who were suited up; there was even a “Torpedoes” sign posted on one end of the platform.

An air of excitement wafted through the Kurganovo Ice Complex and after the Russian National Anthem played, it was go time.

In both games The Torpedoes jumped out to dominating leads: 5-0 in one, 3-0 in the other. Their faces awash with emotion, the kids showed this was one of the biggest games they’d play all year.

Tim ‘Velvet’ Velemirovich, one of the coaches on The Torpedoes bench, knows a thing or two about championship matches. The former University of Manitoba left winger was in his second year at the program when it lost to Alberta in a showdown that would have brought the Bisons to their first University Cup final since 1965.

From there, ‘Velvet’ played a couple of seasons with the Southern Pro League’s Fayetteville FireAntz and won rookie of the year honors in 2007 after leading his team with 89 points in 56 games. It was during that freshman season he and the FireAntz went all the way to the President’s Cup final, defeating the Jacksonville Barracudas 3-1.

The two-time 30-goal scorer in the SPHL was looking good for a couple more titles Friday, but after finishing ahead 8-5 in the younger age group, the older kids had a much more unexpected finish. The Banditos overcame their deficit and took the game to a shootout, winning 2-0, with the clinching goal being scored by our friend Nikita Morozov.

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The excitement wasn’t quite done there, of course. “Commissioner” Jeremy Clark presented the losing teams with the consolation trophy - a miniature version of the day’s big prize.

Then out came the granddaddy of them all, the Pavel Datsyuk Cup.

With Queen’s We Are The Champions blaring, the kids held the Cup over their heads, passed it off to one another and did a victory lap around the ice just as the pros do across the ocean and a world away. Parents ran down and crowded the surface for pictures to serve as lasting memories from one of the most unique and special hockey camps anywhere.

After the game, instructors Jay and Todd Woodcroft gave one last speech of inspiration and Datsyuk had the final Russian words. The kids and their parents then made the rounds, getting autographs from and pictures with all the instructors and giving their reluctant goodbyes.

The PD13 kids hockey school was a robust spectacle. In five days relationships and teams were built, skill levels were improved, confidence was raised and the game of hockey reached over borders and across cultures. It was made possible by the desire of Pavel Datsyuk to give something back to a community and country that helped him reach the sport’s summit with the hope that some day one of these kids will climb up right next to him.

Echoing what everyone said about Detroit’s No. 13 this week, Velemirovich takes us out with his own story of the superstar.

“He’s the best hockey player in the world right now and he’s just one of us, just a normal guy who goes out there and has fun,” Velemirovich said. “He’s like a kid out there. When the kids go off the ice, sometimes he and I are playing around, tossing saucer passes back and forth and playing little games. Like I had a puck here and he had a puck at his end and we were trying to hit the puck from the other side of the ice.

“I beat him by the way.”

Da Zvidanya from Ekaterinburg.

THN AWARD
In place of the 212 Award for the final day, we honored a skater from each age group who showed character and dedication from Day 1 through Day 5.

In the young group Danil Gushin received a Datsyuk-signed PD13 hat and in the older group the efforts of Kirill Tyutyaev earned praise.

Though this column series is complete, the camp carries on for another week as the pace steps up a notch with teenaged prospects, beginning Sunday. Watch Rory Boylen's column space as well as THN's Prospect Report section for additional features based on his time in Russia in the future.

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