There’s big news behind the benches at two of the league’s top clubs – and the prospect of Johnny Depp in a SKA jersey.
It was widely expected, but the deal is finally done. Ilya Vorobyov is officially the new head coach of SKA St. Petersburg. Vorobyov, who led Metallurg to the 2016 Gagarin Cup, replaces Oleg Znarok in the hotseat – and is also confirmed as his long-term successor with Team Russia after signing a two-year contract with the Russian Hockey Federation. Expectations at SKA are always high, and Vorobyov could find himself following in the footsteps of Znarok and Vyacheslav Bykov to become the third man to coach two different clubs to Gagarin Cup glory.
Avangard has pulled off something of a coup after confirming the capture of Bob Hartley as head coach. The experienced Canadian has spent the last two seasons in charge of Team Latvia, leading the Baltic nation to its first World Championship quarter-final since 2009, and is excited about the quality of hockey – and more – in the KHL. “When I came to Riga in March, I sat down and watched the KHL playoffs and, to be honest, I was impressed with the level of hockey I saw,” he told Sport Express. “Moreover, I was impressed with the way the KHL goes about its business. Just look at the TV coverage, it’s really, really good!”
Hartley can look forward to a refreshed roster for coming campaign as well: Sergei Shirokov, Olympic Champion, is returning to the club from SKA, while Finnish goalie Karri Ramo is also heading back to Siberia.
Vitaly Prokhorov, Olympic Champion in 1992 and former Spartak Moscow and St. Louis Blues left winger, has been appointed vice-president of the KHL. Prokhorov’s remit will be to oversee the development of young hockey players in Russia, from school age through the MHL Youth League and into the adult game. Prokhorov, a former head coach of various Russian junior age-group teams, will also be working to help young Russian players return home from minor leagues in North America by creating better conditions for their hockey development in Russia.
Czech referee Antonin Jerabek has been a familiar face on the KHL circuit since he first came to Russia in 2009-10 as part of an officiating exchange. Now, 285 games later, he’s heading back to his native Czech Republic, having been whistled at Olympics and World Championships and played a key role in developing the KHL’s Refereeing Department.
But one of his first memories involved an early encounter with his countryman Milos Riha, behind Spartak’s bench at the time, and a typically volatile exchange with the colorful coach. “I remember the game at Sokolniki because early in the game I blew up and thwarted a Spartak rush. Immediately, I realized I was mistaken and went to the bench to apologize to Riha. He answered me, in Czech, in good humor, accepting that these things happen. Spartak fell behind, then hauled it back to a one-goal game but right before the hooter I called [Spartak forward] Branko Radivojevic for tripping. That time, Riha was more wound up. He spoke to me in Czech again, but this time it was much less friendly,” laughed Jerabek.
Ever thought you’d see movie star Johnny Depp or rock legends Joe Perry and Alice Cooper suiting up in the KHL? Well, we might not quite go that far, but the three did appear in SKA uniform this week after their band, the Hollywood Vampires, played the Ice Palace in St. Petersburg.