LILLEHAMMER – Looking on the roster of Russian’s men’s ice hockey team at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games there is a name that stands out. Pavel Rotenberg does not only share the name with the famous Russian billionaire dynasty, he actually is the son of Arkadi Rotenberg.
And although he doesn’t need to have any financial worries, his dream is to earn money as a professional athlete in the cool and physical sport of ice hockey – a rather unseen passion for a teenager with such a background. But Pavel Rotenberg simply loves the sport since ever he started to play when he was five years old.
Grown up in St. Petersburg as one of five children of Arkadi Rotenberg, the 15-year-old, who will celebrate his 16th birthday soon, has played in junior teams in the city, mostly with the older class of 1999-born players, currently with Dynamo St. Petersburg. Among his teammates on both the club team and the Youth Olympics is Alexander Zhabreyev, the second-best goal scorer of the Russian team in Lillehammer.
“I started to play hockey by chance. A friend who is one year older than me started to play hockey and then I started too,” he said.
In Russia the Rotenbergs are famous businessmen who are sometimes referred to as oligarchs. Arkadi Rotenberg’s company Stroygazmontazh became huge in constructing gas pipelines and electrical power supply. Forbes lists his fortune at $1.05 billion and that figure doesn’t include the wealth of the rest of the family.
He is also involved big in hockey as chairman of Dynamo Moscow, one of the owners of Jokerit Helsinki’s Hartwall Arena and as board member of both the Ice Hockey Federation of Russia and the Kontinental Hockey League. In his younger years he was active in sports himself and known a judo sparring partner of the country’s President Vladimir Putin.
In western media his name has gained fame due to the sanctions imposed by the U.S., Canada and the European Union after Russia’s take-over of Crimea since he’s seen as a long-time acquaintance of Putin’s. This travel ban doesn’t affect his hockey-playing son, who enjoys being in Lillehammer with athletes from so many different countries.
“It’s great here. It’s my first experience in such kind of an event. Everything is perfect and we can fully focus on hockey,” Pavel Rotenberg said. When he’s on the ice he doesn’t feel his family background and network make him different from the others.
“I don’t feel that anything is different for me. I’m part of the team and I try to be a good son of my father. I’m proud to wear the Russian jersey like everybody else.”
Also when he talks about his daily life it doesn’t sound too different than what other youthful hockey players would tell you.
“I wake up, go to school, then I have off-ice practice, hit the ice and then I have dinner and sleep, sometimes I go for a walk with friends,” said the forward, who had one assist point in the four preliminary-round games.
And like many other players on his team he hopes to follow the footsteps of his idols like Alexander Ovechkin.
“I hope to start in [Russia’s major junior league] MHL and then life will show how far I come,” he said. “My dream is to become a professional hockey player but sometimes I also think about what I want to do afterwards. I don’t want to become a coach, rather study to become a lawyer.”
For this moment his full focus is on the Youth Olympics. The Russians lost the last preliminary-round game 4-2 to the USA in a match that had a sour taste due to the head injury Oliver Wahlstrom suffered. The offender, Andrei Svechnikov, won’t be able to play for Russia tonight due to an automatic game suspension when these two teams meet again, this time in the semi-finals.
Despite the bad day for his team on Thursday, Rotenberg and his teammates remain positive.
“We have good chances here. One plays for all and all for one. I think we can win gold because of our character,” he said.
The game will be played at 20:00 (CET). The early semi-final game between Canada and Finland starts at 17:00.