When the KHL first emerged onto the world professional hockey scene in 2008, most speculation was over how it would affect the NHL in terms of its ability to keep players in North America.While the players have grabbed the hockey world’s attention, North American coaches have quietly been going through the recruitment process as well, and more than one has been able to overcome the steep language barrier to make the crossover between leagues.
Ever hear of Dave King? King, the former long-time head of Canada’s Olympic hockey program and member of the Canadian Olympic and also IIHF Halls of Fame, was a coach for Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Russian Super League, which was re-branded as the KHL. He currently serves as an assistant coach for the Phoenix Coyotes. Says King:
“The KHL is looking like it’s becoming a better and more stable league. They have a new junior league now in Russia where the top young players can stay and play in Russia in a pretty competitive league. So they’re trying to do some things to enhance their game again. ”
“I enjoyed it because it gave me a chance to see how they develop their kids… to see it every day, to see them working with these young players and to see the progression they use with these young kids to develop these great players is very interesting. Not many get that opportunity to get behind the scenes in Russia and watch player development, and I was lucky to have that situation.”
High praise, indeed. King even wrote a book about entitled “King of Russia,” detailing his time in Russia. The Russian experience didn’t begin and end with King.
Mike Krushelnyski, a Ukrainian-Canadian and three time Stanley Cup winner who enjoyed 15 seasons in the NHL, worked as the head coach of Vityaz Chekhov in 2006-07, and returned to coach there again in 2008.
Wayne Fleming (currently an assistant with Tampa) signed up to coach the 2008-09 season in with Avangard Omsk. He had been an assistant coach with the Calgary Flames over the prior few seasons, and was also an assistant coach for Team Canada at the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics, and 2004 World Cup of Hockey. The season was a disaster for Fleming, whose brief tenure was marred by a strange coach-benching in the middle of a hockey game. He was fired a month later.
The strange circumstances that Fleming endured didn’t put a black mark on the KHL, however. Former Atlanta Thrashers coach Bob Hartley was in discussions as recently as six months ago for the head coaching position with that same Avangard club.
More coaches could follow, and the names are big. Originally reported by the Edmonton Journal, there was reasonable speculation last year that Wayne Gretzky would become the next head coach of the KHL’s “dream team,” SKA, before the job was awarded to Czech coach Vaclav Sikora.
Then, from Dmitry Chesnokov, member of the International Sports Press Association, came this tweet today:
Dave King’s comments praised the KHL for not just being an improving, but an impressive league. It should come as no surprise if Wayne Gretzky, Larry Robinson, Andy Murray, or Mike Keenan are behind the bench for a KHL team some day. They wouldn’t be the first, and they wouldn’t be the last. Says King:
“They are paying some pretty good money there. How long can they pay these salaries? Hockey in Russia will go on.”