All-Star Game head coaches Igor Nikitin, Jukka Jalonen, Galym Mambetaliyev and Andrei Nazarov spoke to KHL.ru about their expectations of the forthcoming week of Hockey Stars in Astana, having women TV presenters as assistant coaches, and why they might brick up the goals during the All-Star Game.
From January 10 to 14, the Kazakhstan capital is hosting the biggest hockey show of the season: the Week of Hockey Stars. The best players from the Women's and Youth Hockey Leagues have already graced the ice at the Barys Arena, and at the weekend the finest players from the KHL get their chance to show their skills. We sought the views of the bosses – the four coaches of the Division teams which will contest the 2018 All-Star Game.
Igor Nikitin (CSKA), Tarasov Division head coach:
- Of course, I am honored that I was chosen to participate in such a match. I wouldn't say that I felt any particular emotion on getting the call, but it's a tough time of the season with many crucial matches, so I hope the All-Star Game will be an entertaining diversion.
- Will you try to conjure up a surprise or two for your opponents in the All-Star Game, or maybe in the Master Show?
- Up to now I've been busy trying to concoct surprises for our opponents in the regular season, and of course, I don't have any All-Star Game experience on which to draw. When we get together in Astana, I'll have to consult the others in the team, many of whom are no strangers to producing surprises at such events.
- Have you watched any of the previous All-Star Games?
- To be honest, no, because if I ever get a free moment I use it to switch off from hockey and to let my emotions settle a little, so that any new ideas which occur to me will stay clear in my mind.
- You have been to Astana many times, of course, so what are your impressions?
- My impressons of the place are very positive. I know many people in Astana, and my godson lives there. They are all looking forward to the event, and of course, they will all come along to cheer us on.
“I don't have any All-Star Game experience, so I'll have to consult the others in the team, many of whom are no strangers to producing surprises at such events.”
- Andrei Nazarov suggested that the Master Show should include a contest for the four coaches, in which the winner is one who can throw a plastic bottle furthest from the bench...
- Throwing bottles? I had already mastered that in my school days, so I would have the advantage of experience.
- Any thoughts on the appointment of Sonia Gudim as your assistant?
- Inviting the women was a good idea, and I don't think it's been done before, but it means I'll have to censor my speech a little on the bench (laughs).
- Which of the coaching duties will you delegate to her?
- All of them at once. Why not? I've worked several as an assistant coach myself.
Jukka Jalonen (Jokerit), Bobrov Division head coach:
- It's a big honor to have been invited to the All-Star Game, regardless of whether you're a coach or a player. It's a sign that we at Jokerit are doing a good job and gettings right out on the ice. The trip to Astana is a reward for that and I appreciate it. I have been at two previous KHL All-Star Games, in Chelyabinsk and in Bratislava, and I really like the relaxed and joyful atmosphere at these events, and the finest players are taking part. The stars want to score goals and show what they can do. It's a great weekend, and a special time in the middle of a long and tough regular season.
At my two previous All-Star Games, it was always 5-on-5, so it will be interesting to see how this new 3-on-3 format works out. The players are taking the upcoming games very seriously, and we could see a lot of 1-on-1 breaks or a lot of swift counter-attacks.
“I have coached Ilya Kovalchuk and Dmitry Kalinin before, and now I'm Sami Lepisto's coach. They were all captains or alternate captains in my teams.”
To start off, I want to talk to the players and ask them how they want to play. I know the matches will bring a lot of fun and the fans will enjoy the spectacle. As for me, as a coach, the game will give me a bit more pleasure if the players want to fight for victory. I hope they will battle hard. I have coached Ilya Kovalchuk and Dmitry Kalinin before, and now I'm Sami Lepisto's coach. They were all captains or alternate captains in my teams, so as you can see, I already have a few leaders and I'm sure they'll have something to say about our tactics.
What do I think of having women TV presenters assisting the coaches? Natalia Clark will be my first ever female assistant, so for me it will be fascinating. We'll get together and discuss the roles we'll play on the bench, and I'm sure she'll also have some ideas. She will definitely be involved, because we are used to having two assistants for each All-Star Game team, so between us, Natalia and I will have to do the work of three coaches.
Galym Mambetaliyev (Barys), Chernyshev Division head coach:
- Galym Mambetaliyev, is this a wonderful start to the new year for you?
- It's 50-50. A wonderful start would be when everything is going fine, but Barys is now in a difficult phase. Of course, being appointed by the KHL to take charge of the Chernyshev Division team was a surprise for everyone, and I thank them for showing such faith in me. I will try to make a valuable contribution to this big festival of hockey in Astana.
- Did you ever dream you would be in such a situation?
- Everyone dreams, but personally I never entertained the idea that I would serve as a head coach at the All-Star Game. I didn't make any wishes under the clock, or burn any papers to sprinkle the ashes in the champagne (smiles).
- Who told you of the appointment?
- The first I heard was from Barys Vice-President Boris Ivanishchev, and then it was confirmed by Club President Askar Shopabayev. They congratulated me and reminded me of the responsibility I now had on my shoulders. I must not let anyone down, as it is the first time the All-Star Game has featured a coach from Kazakhstan. At first I was a little dazed and confused, but the club management gave me great support and said I have to be bold, and they're right, because I am not exactly a newcomer to hockey.
“How can we stop Mozyakin? Put up barriers around the slot and a pile of bricks across the goal, then pour cement... Only joking. We'll tackle that problem during the game.”
- What do you expect from the Week of Hockey Stars?
- I expect us to create a real festival of hockey for all who love the game. I expect the players will be competitive, and that, without the pressure of the Championship, will enjoy all that's going on and will produce attractive, entertaining and high-scoring games. You know, all hockey players love themselves, and the All-Star Game lets them show off their skills, their most attractive moves, and their best shots, as it's not always possible to do this during the championship where they have less freedom. As for me, personally, it's a welcome gift and a valuable experience I can take into the future. I would like to thank the KHL for granting me this opportunity.
- The rosters have been known for some time. Have you decided who will play with whom?
- Thre are very good players in our roster and it will be a pleasure working with them, Yes, I have made a few plans, but why would I show my hand?
- What do you think of the idea of having women TV presenters assisting the coaches?
- It will be interesting, because women have a special logic and way of thinking, so because of this experiment we might learn something new. Daria Mironova will also be a great help to me as an interpreter, because I don't speak English, and as for her preferred coaching philosophy, the carrot and stick, well, we are obviously two of a kind. We'll be a good team.
“I must not let anyone down, as it is the first time the All-Star Game has had a coach from Kazakhstan. The Barys management gave me great support and said I must be bold.”
- What kind of punishment awaits any player who loses in a personal duel with an opponent?
- I doubt that will happen, but if it did, we'd examine the situation and let the captain decide. Maybe the offender will have to collect and carry the sticks and pucks back to the locker room after the pre-match skate.
- How will you stop Sergei Mozyakin from scoring?
- We'll put up barriers around the slot and a pile of bricks across the goal, then pour cement (smiles)... Only joking. We'll tackle that problem during the game. It's generally better to play so well that Mozyakin himself is wondering how he can help out in defense and try to stop our forwards.
- Which of the previous All-Star Games did you enjoy the most?
- Last season's, in Ufa, when they updated the format to have two inter-conference semi-finals and then an East-versus-West final. The event became more interesting, more competitive, and I liked the idea of having the four best young players in the Challenge Cup being given a chance to play alongside the KHL's finest stars. It's a great honor for the youngsters, great motivation, and most of all, it's an investment in the future.
Andrei Nazarov (Neftekhimik), Kharlamov Division head coach:
- To appear in the all-Star Game as a head coach is undoubtedly an honor, and our mission is to delight the fans by producing beautiful hockey. Pleasing the fans comes first. As for me, I regard Kazakhstan as my second home, and I've said many times that Astana is my favourite place on Earth after Chelyabinsk. I hope the Kazakh fans remember me and will give me a warm reception.
I see Astana as the capital of all Asia, a city which is attracting huge investment from all points of the compass, as we can see in the way the city is developing, and I'm sure the organization of the All-Star Game will be of the highest level.
What do I think of the idea of having women TV presenters as assistant coaches? Well, it will be very interesting. I will try to behave in a purely professional manner. Sex discrimination in hockey? No chance! It's the All-Star Game, it's for everyone, and everyone will be smiling. And as for what the women wear, that's up to them. My assistant, Maria Bass, will draw up our planned tactical formations. I already have it all worked out: she'll show her diagrams to the players during the game and explain the strategy, and I'll say whether it's a good or bad move.
As for contests between the coaches, well, for example, if the want me to take part in the Shootout, then I don't know. I'd be worried I might make a fool of myself (smiles), but I'd have no problem with joining in the suggested contest in which we each throw a plastic bottle from the bench, providing they repay the fine they imposed on me for doing that three years ago (laughs).