Only one Challenger League team has the honour of a win against the CHL titans Frölunda Indians. That team is Yunost Minsk. Hailing from the Belarussian capital, Yunost have consistently been one of the toughest teams to come out of Pot 4 in the Champions Hockey League Group Stage Draw, and in 2019/20, Yunost will be looking to make their mark once again.
The man at the controls of the Yunost machine is Alexei Torbin. In his role as CEO, Torbin has overseen two Belarussian titles and victory in the Continental Cup and has also played a crucial role in strengthening the club’s brand and image both in Belarus and in Europe as a whole, through their achievements in the CHL.
“For us, it is very interesting and prestigious to perform worthily in the CHL”, commented Torbin at the CHL Group Stage Draw in Bratislava on Wednesday.
2019/20 will be Yunost Minsk’s third appearance in the Champions Hockey League and Torbin outlined the club’s sincere and substantial commitment to the competition. “We are very glad that Yunost will appear in the Champions League for a third time. We have already once qualified for the Playoffs", said Yunost Minsk's CEO.
"The CHL is a great event"
Speaking of his delight at seeing Yunost welcome Europe’s top clubs to the Chizhovka-Arena, Torbin commented, “It [the CHL] is a great event. These games are, and will be, suitably interesting in our country. For our fans, it will be interesting not only to watch our own players, but also to see our opponents from different countries who will travel to us.”
Torbin joined Yunost in 2014, after a number of years with Belarus’s KHL club, Dinamo Minsk. During that time, Yunost have developed both on- and off-ice, bolstering their senior roster and placing great emphasis on the development of junior hockey players, alongside a larger social media presence.
Whilst Belarus’s senior men’s national team played in Division IA of the IIHF World Championships in 2019, the future looks bright. Belarus’s U20 team placed second in Division IA, whilst the U18s were the stars of this year’s tournament, reaching the Quarter-Finals despite being favourites for relegation. Four members of Belarus’s U20 team played for Yunost Minsk’s senior team at some point in 2018/19.
“We take very seriously the development of our juniors”, said Torbin. “We play almost without foreigners, giving the opportunity for our players to develop and leave for the world’s best teams. Our juniors are playing at a high level, including some in the KHL.” Yunost graduates include Kristian Khenkel, recently signed with Ak Bars Kazan, and Alexander Kogalev, who scored the CHL Goal of the Year in 2016/17.
Yunost return to the CHL in 2019/20 on the back of a historic season in the Belarussian league. The club lost just 9 of 56 regular season games, before losing just one game in the entire Playoffs on their way to their eighth Belarusian title, the most in the country.
“It was a record-setting season”, said Torbin. “We scored the most amount of points ever in a regular season. We started preparations early, we really wanted to become champions in order to, among other things, return to the Champions Hockey League.”
Returning to the Champions Hockey League will see Yunost look to build on the back of previous victories, and their playoff appearance in 2016/17. This victories have been against some of the CHL’s strongest teams, including TPS Turku and Växjö Lakers, alongside the aforementioned Frölunda Indians.
Speaking of his club’s success, particularly on home ice, Torbin said, “We were highly motivated, we prepared well and expended a lot of energy. Our task for this season is to reach the Playoffs”.
“It is a good group”, said Torbin. “The games will be particularly interesting as we have not played against these clubs before. For us they will be historic games. We are hoping to qualify from this group and we will try to achieve this goal.”
Yunost Minsk are at the forefront of Belarussian hockey and will once again be a team to watch in the Champions Hockey League in 2019/20!