In today’s edition of ‘Sixth Player’ we sit down and talk with Viktoria Kupriyanova, who is going to share how their passion for hockey led her to a job in the industry.
First hockey games and fan-sector foundation
“Once I went to a regular kid hockey game to see my friends. That was back in Sakhalin. I got hooked right then and there already and began going to various amateur games,” says Kupriyanova. “In 2014 our island got a professional Junior Hockey League team Sakhalinskie Akuly. That gave a new, more vivid life to my passion for hockey. It became something new and, I think, a necessity. A lot of local folks got the hockey fever. Out-of-town players were surprised to see so many people showing up to junior league games. Little boys looked up to those players and wanted to be like them. As for me personally, hockey was a turning point of my life. Soon after the club was founded we got a fan-sector, which had a specialty – the dames. There were more girls than men and they were just as loud. The atmosphere was amazing.”
Passion for hockey determined career path
“I always had a seat at the games away from the fan-sector,” continues Viktoria. “Although, it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t a part of it. We would often meet outside the rink as well and come up with interesting ideas for the team. We would shoot videos in their support, organized various meetings, prepared surprises and stayed up all night to meet the guys with ginger cookies. That was a lot of fun, actually. Aside from unbelievable emotions at the games, I was also very excited to be on the organizing end of things. That played a huge role in determining my career path. In 2016 I got accepted in one Vladivostok university and the junior team moved to Ussuriysk, which is located only 90km away. Although, it was a new team with new staff. However, Taifun remained somewhat of my old team. The atmosphere and even a few players and managers were still there. Perhaps, some of them were surprised to see me there.”
- What is hockey to you now?
- Hockey is now an essential part of my life. It takes up a lot of my time. Or rather not ‘takes up’ but fills up a lot of my time with pleasure. I love the sport. I love working in it and it brings me a lot of fun.
- What is your job?
- It’s more of a part-time job. I have a contract with Vladivostok Hockey Federation. I write articles, take pictures and make videos every now and then.
- How did your fan-sector came to be in Sakhalin and Ussuriysk? Could you describe its first steps?
- Back in Sakhalin it almost sprung to life by itself. However, there were actual people who made it happen. It wouldn’t be polite to name any name because we acted as a team. We were a team within a bigger team of Far Eastern Russia fans from Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Sakhalin. Incidentally, it was largely to that community that I adapted in Vladivostok quickly and effortlessly.
- Do you remember your first Taifun games?
- I do. I first went there with several Admiral fans. I was interested to see how things were going over there, how was the new team doing and what was their new place like. The fan-sector had a more serious mission ahead of them, though. They had to show the way to support their team. We drove there in several cars, decorated with Primorie Region teams’ merchandise. People on the streets were confused as well drove past them honking. Some of them seemed pretty friendly. They smiled and waved at us. The arena, just like Ussuriysk, turned out to be small but cozy. I was surprised by the temperature inside the rink – it was very cold. However, everyone forgot about shortly after the puckdrop. We were all into the game and supported our team. Before the trip I was worried about how I was going to be met there, would I get the chance to get any quotes or take good pictures. It was my first experience of that sort but my worries were in vain. I knew a few people at the rink and the ones I didn’t know turned out to be rather friendly. In the end it was a great trip.
- As a fan, do you have your own traditions and superstitions?
- I had to think about it but personally I couldn’t find any superstitions. Certainly, there were a few coincidences that grew into tendencies but only for a short period of time. For instance, Admiral fans have this cute plush bunny and I would take it with me and go to the drummers. It was my calming tool of sort. Although, in fact it’s a mini mascot. I’m sure a lot of people have heard about the main mascot of the team – Matroska The Cat. There’s a statue of her right in front of Fetisov-Arena and anyone can pet her for good luck. Also, a group of fans marches around the arena with portraits of admirals. Although, it’s more of a tradition than a superstition. Sometimes they also give out candy during the game so the game would be sweeter. Back in Sakhalinskie Akuly times, the fans also did a lot of fun stuff. Some people had to drink a certain brand of coffee before the game and some had to put their lucky clothes. During the shootout, everyone at the fan-sector would hug each other and stand there in complete silence, while our players were taking their shots. I think, everyone has their certain set of superstitions, which are deemed important.
- Do you have the chance to go to away games as well? How do fans treat you in other cities?
- This past season I went on my first road trip with the team. It was Far Eastern Russia’s rivalry in Khabarovsk and it was one to remember. There were two buses of us and it was a night ride. We had to bus it for about eight hours. The atmosphere was spectacular. Everybody was getting ready for the game, rehearsed the chants but somehow we managed to squeeze in a few hours of sleep as well. We had some time to walk around the city in the afternoon but all the exciting stuff happened in the evening at Platinum Arena. I had never seen so many fans dressed in fire orange colors before. I had mixed emotions about that. I was even humbled a little. There were so many of them and they were our opponents.
- How did you like the rivalry?
- When Amur faces Admiral, they always play in front of a soldout crowd. Although, the greatest thing about the rivalry is not about the rivalry itself but the relationship between people. At first I was sincerely surprised that the fans had such a friendly and even warm relationship. You walk through the arena and see all these strangers who cheer for the opposing team and yet they give you friendly smiles. They can even stop and have an amicable chat. Fan-sectors also keep in touch. They set meetings in their respective cities, go on excursions and walks together. They always hug each other when they meet. There’s no confrontation off the ice.
- Who is motor behind Taifun?
- Taifun is only getting started. There are certain fans who come to every game and there are those who come to Ussuriysk from Vladivostok and vice versa when they have the chance. The game is the motor. A lot depends on what goes on in the game. That gives an impulse and emotions to the stands. There is one hardcore fan. He’s a guy who decides on the chants. He often takes everything in his own hands and accelerates the rhythm of the crowd. I believe, when local fans read this interview, they will know who I’m talking about and smile.
There are also a few creative girls who come up with new chants, draw posters and even sew their own costumes, in which they dance at the games. We’re gradually getting more chants. We got our first chants from Admiral fans. These days if one fan begins the chant, everyone around him can follow it. We also hold special competitions for new chants and posters.
- Do you follow Taifun junior hockey players who go on into the deep waters of the Kontinental Hockey League?
- When you talk about young KHL players, you have to keep in mind that Taifun is a relatively new team. Personally, I think Daniil Kurashov is a great example of career growth. In the 2015-16 season he played for Sakhalinskie Akuly, then he made it to Admiral, where he played for two seasons, and now he signed a 2-year contract with Ak Bars. Without a doubt, it’s very interesting and great to see players develop in front of your own eyes. It’s exciting even to follow the players you know move from one Junior Hockey League team to another.