As Mike Keenan prepares to come back on top in his third KHL season with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, khl.ru reporter talked to him and a popular phrase Iron Mike likes to repeat quite often seemed to be the perfect start of this conversation.
Some people might say that experience is what you get when you do not get what you want. Are they right?
Exactly. I think somebody in particular told you that.
Yes, I have a spy among your staff. So, in terms of experience, your second season was more fruitful than your first.
It depends how you interpret the word, “experience.” A winning experience is very valuable, but if you learn from a losing experience, then it can be just as valuable. Certainly, in our evaluation, we maybe did even better than in the previous year, because we had so many injuries to major players and yet we were still able to sustain the same winning percentage as in my initial year. However, as for the playoffs, part of our evaluation is that we just ran out of bodies in our last game against Sibir. We had no other players to play - we were completely down to our limit because of injuries. That is part and parcel of a learning experience.
But if you put all the blame on injuries, surely that will get you nowhere. You can never know what would have happened otherwise.
I am not saying that was the sole reason, but it was the major reason. There are many other variables, but if you lose your top players, then during the course of the season you lose some momentum and you certainly lose some integration, as you are patching the team because of these injuries rather than having a fluid team that is playing together all the time. That is one by-product, and we have to make some better adaptations, particularly as our opponents study us and learn more about us. In particular, our top line was fresh and new in my first year, so people went to work and studied them for the second year. That line still had pretty good results, although (Sergei) Mozyakin was out twice with major injuries, so this year we have increased our depth and added more offense. We think that the second unit has proved during the preseason that they can contribute as well, so maybe this depth, something that we have addressed, will help us.
During the Chelyabinsk pre-season tournament you split Mozyakin and Danis Zaripov in one game, so are you rebuilding two of your lines?
We tried to experiment a little bit. We put (Wojtek) Wolski up and put Zaripov with (Tomas) Filippi and (Oskar) Osala. Last year, for example, when Mozyakin was out, (Denis) Platonov came in and played with (Jan) Kovar and Zaripov and we did very well. So you have to make changes in anticipation, firstly to cover all possibilities in terms of illness or sickness in your roster, and secondly, to not give a predictable format to an opponent. Being unpredictable is part of a solution as well. Particularly in that game with Avangard, for example, we had a two-goal deficit, and as soon as I started to do that – to make changes they were not ready for - we came back and tied the game. Yes, we eventually lost, but those games are part and parcel of your team growing and learning together.
So it is always good to have a Plan B,
Absolutely. Change is part of a successful formula in any walk of life, whether it is sport or business. To come out on top is one thing, but to stay on top is even more difficult. You have got to make some adaptations to your approach and also offset the studies that the opposition have made of you.
You had this situation many times in your career. You have won everything, and each time there is a year after. Was this one more or less difficult or was it the same?
First of all, it is very, very difficult to win, period. In the whole sport, there is only one winner every year. In this league you have twenty-eight teams; in the NHL you have thirty, and some people fail to understand that. But if you give yourself a chance to win and things fall into place, like good health, or momentum, or a good break on the ice in terms of a call, maybe – there is some luck involved – but that’s what we want to do here: to put ourselves in a position where we have that possibility to win.
You say that in your second year, your opponents studied your team even harder, so how hard do you study your opponents?
We do the same thing. We study how they have made adjustments to play against us, for example, and how we can learn and understand what is going to be our best success against that particular team or group. That is a case for our coaching staff – just as the opposition study us, we study them as well. That is always a “work in progress.”
There is always this question of balance. Some coaches say you should just concentrate on your own team and on your own plan.
Knowledge is powerful. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change the direction of your team, but it is better to have knowledge of the other team if you can get it. This, too, would be applicable in any walk of life, Knowledge is power, and the more knowledge you have, the brighter you can become about any aspect of what has developed in your environment, your community, your teams and your league, and the better off you are.
It takes us back to our first question: last season gave you much more experience, so now how do you view the future?
We are looking forward to it because now we have to reset our team. I had that experience in Philadelphia, for example, when we went to the Stanley Cup finals and the next year our goaltender - Pelle Lindbergh, the Swede who won the Vezina Trophy - died in a car accident. We still had a strong season, even though he was killed in November, but we didn’t do well in the playoffs - we went out as we did here, last year. However, by the third year we had recovered from that tragic death and some major injuries and we were able to get back to where we were. So, hopefully, we can make that adaptation and progression here as well. We have to change some of our approaches, styles and expectations, and we will continue to do that.
Oleg Vinokurov, from Magnitogorsk