With less than two months to go until the start of the new season, KHL.ru begins a series of articles introducing you to the players and coaches who are preparing to make their debuts in the league. First up, we’re looking at the foreign coaches joining the competition this summer and hoping to join Mike Keenan on the list of hockey masterminds to come from outside of Russia and win the Gagarin Cup.
We’ve got two Finns, a Czech, a Slovak, a Canadian and another coach born across the Atlantic but holding a Russian passport. The youngest in the group only turned 41 in May; the oldest is 57. Each one has followed a very different path to get here – and it promises to be fascinating to watch how each of them adapts to a new challenge in his career.
Born May 24, 1977 in Banska Bistrica (Slovakia)
Playing honors: Swedish champion (2001), World Champion (2002)
Coaching honors: Slovak champion (2017, 2018)
Of course, Vladimir Orszagh isn’t a foreigner in Bratislava – the Slovak coach is on home soil as he takes the reins at his country’s biggest club. But moving from Slovakia’s ExtraLiga to the KHL lifts him into an international arena.
Technically, Orszagh has been here before. Back in 2014 he had a solitary game as acting head coach of Slovan following the departure of Rostislav Cada. Now, though, he’s back in a full-time capacity.
As a player, Orszagh had a respectable stint in the NHL, plundering 121 points from 295 appearances with the Islanders, the Predators and the Blues. His high point came in the early 2000s when he broke the 15-goal barrier in three successive seasons in Nashville. Unfortunately, problems with his knee forced him to retire from playing at the age of just 32. Back home in Slovakia, he began his coaching career in 2010.
Once again, Orszagh delivered results. Twice a champion of Slovakia with Banska Bistrica, plus a stint on the coaching staff at Slovan adds up to a promising start to his coaching career. International recognition followed: Orszagh has been on Slovakia’s coaching staff at two Olympic Games and three World Championships. In Bratislava, he looks like a perfect fit: a young coach, full of potential, with a track record of success and a detailed knowledge of Slovak hockey.
What he said: “For me, this invitation to the KHL is recognition of my results up to now. After three years [at Banska Bistrica] it was important for me personally to take the chance of competing at a higher level, so I can only thank Slovan for giving me this opportunity.”
Born Sep. 6, 1960 in Hawkesbury, Canada
Coaching honors: QMJHL Champion (1993), Calder Cup winner (1997), Stanley Cup winner (2001), Swiss Champion (2012)
Bob Hartley is a unique figure. It’s hard to find another coach who has won every league in which he has worked. The Canadian has done that in junior hockey, in the AHL, the NHL and then the Swiss Championship. Now it’s time to see if he can do it again in the KHL.
Hartley is one of those coaches who never really hit the heights as a player. After failing to make it at a significant level, he turned to coaching in his home town of Hawkesbury, Ontario, while working in a local paint factory. From that humble start, he worked his way up the hockey ladder through the AHL and all the way to Stanley Cup glory with Colorado in 2001.
After leaving for Europe, Hartley won the Swiss title at the first attempt after taking charge at Zurich Lions. He looked for a return to the KHL, but four seasons with Calgary resulted in just one playoff campaign. So his next move was into international hockey with Latvia. As youth team coach, then in charge of the senior national team, he arrested a slide in fortunes for the Baltic nation and back in May he took the team to its first World Championship quarter final since Oleg Znarok’s days in charge.
On May 28, Hartley was named head coach of Avangard. Earlier, the Omsk team had hoped to appoint Ilya Vorobyov to the job, but once he took on the role of head coach for Team Russia, the Siberians thought again and identified Hartley as the man to take the team forward, even though he will continue with the Latvians.
Expectations are high: Avangard is a wealthy, well-supported organization that expects better than a solitary run to the Gagarin Cup final back in 2012. Hartley will work with his long-time colleague Jacques Cloutier, part of his staff in Colorado and Zurich, and Mike Pletino, well-known in the KHL for his time at Metallurg.
What he said: “For every one of us it’s going to be a new start, a new challenge. We’ll try to play entertaining hockey at home and on the road, we want to get our fans behind us. We need to build on Avangard’s great history and turn that into a great present and a great future. It’s a competitive league, we’ll battle with strong opponents. I want to see Avangard making headlines – but for the right reasons.”
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Born Nov 12, 1968, Beroun (Czech Republic)
Coaching honors: World Champion (2010), Czech championship runner-up (2016), Czech championship bronze medalist (2008, 2011, 2014)
During the recent World Championship in Denmark, Jandac was a popular figure with the Russian media. At the helm of a Czech team that caught the eye thanks to the likes of David Pastrnak and David Krejci, the coach’s willingness to field questions in impressively fluent Russian meant he had plenty of opportunities to talk about his upcoming move to Magnitogorsk.
Like Orszagh, it’s not quite unknown territory for Jandac. Back in 2012-13 he spent a few weeks in charge of Lev Prague. However, his journey to the top end of the European game has followed an unusual route. As a player, he remained rooted in the lower leagues of his homeland. As a coach, he started out in South Korea with Seok Top Soul. After returning home, he steadily built a reputation and enjoyed his greatest success in 2010 when he was an assistant to Vladimir Ruzicka on the Czech’s World Champion roster. Subsequently, Jandac took Sparta Prague to the grand final of the Czech League and had a two-year stint as head coach of the national team, reaching the semi-finals of this year’s Olympics.
If Jandac’s experiences with Lev weren’t all that happy, his new challenge in Magnitogorsk promises to be very different. This time, he’s behind the bench at an ambitious club with a proud tradition of success – and he will be expected to maintain those high standards.
What he said: “I know all about the traditions of success at this club. I can well understand the ambitions and expectations here. At a club like this, nobody will put up with poor results. If I complete my two-year contract, it will mean that we’ve done well. And that’s exactly why I came here.”
Born May 29, 1977 in Tampere (Finland)
Coaching honors: Finnish champion (2014, 2015), World Championship runner-up (2014), Olympic bronze (2014).
Like Orszagh, Marjamaki is taking charge of his country’s representative in the KHL. Unlike Orszagh, he arrives with a limited playing pedigree. The Tampere native managed a few seasons of junior hockey before switching his attention to coaching. Beginning in the junior ranks, he worked his way up to become assistant coach of the Espoo Blues and the Finnish Junior roster. His breakthrough came in 2014 when he led Karpat to the first of two back-to-back titles and assisted Erkka Westerlund to Olympic bronze and World Championship silver.
That success earned the youngster a chance to coach the Finnish national team after Westerlund moved to Jokerit and now Marjamaki is making the same journey. He replaces Jukka Jalonen, who will take charge of Finland’s national team once again.
What he said: “Head coach of Jokerit is one of the most attractive jobs in Europe. The team has fantastic players and the competition in the KHL really appeals to me. In addition, the club’s prospects to be competitive and the quality of the people in the management convinced me that this was the right deal for me.”
Born June 13, 1974 in Kerava (Finland)
Coaching honors: Finnish champion (2016, 2017)
Another young Finnish coach is heading East in a bid to get the KHL’s Chinese club back into the playoff places. As a player, Tapola’s career never really took off but he’s made waves as a coach. Perhaps that’s a result of his background: in his playing days he combined sport with studies and qualified as a teacher. He went on to coach Finland’s u18s and u20s, then worked at Tappara. After stepping up from assistant to head coach, he went on to repeat Marjamaki’s back-to-back Finnish titles.
Last season, Jussi focussed on his work as assistant to Marjamaki for the national team and dealt with management issues at club level. This season, the games between Kunlun and Jokerit might have a bit of extra spice: Tapola twice lost out to Marjamaki in Finnish Championship finals before getting his hands on the prize in 2016.
What he said: “I saw quite a few of Kunlun’s games in the KHL because the club, especially in the its first season, had a lot of Finnish players and that attracted some interest back home. Of course, Jokerit also gets a lot of attention, so I watched their games as well. So I know the league fairly well, at least through what I’ve seen on TV. I learned a lot more from conversations with Finnish players here – there are quite a few of them at different clubs. But no matter how much they could tell me, and how much I could see on the television, this is something new for me. Once again, it’s time to start learning fast.”
Born Aug. 1, 1976, Toronto, Canada
Unlike the other coaches on this list, Nemirovski has not won a major title yet. While he has perhaps the most extensive playing career, his life behind the bench is just starting.
Born to Russian parents in Toronto, Nemirovski was drafted by Florida in 1994. He went on to feature in about 100 NHL games, but the bulk of his North American experience came in the AHL. Back in 2001 he came to Russia to play for Lokomotiv and soon after he acquired a Russian passport. “My parents are Russian, but they left long ago and I was born in Canada,” he said in 2003 after he was traded to Ak Bars. “I decided to get a Russian passport because I feel Russian. I’ve always dreamed of this.” Nemirovski’s playing career took him into the KHL era, and he represented Khimik, SKA, CSKA, Barys and Dinamo Minsk.
His emergence as head coach at Torpedo was an unexpected change of path. Three things make him stand out among the other incoming coaches from abroad. First, his Russian roots mean he isn’t exactly a foreigner – and in his final seasons as a player he was counted as a Russian. Second, he is the only one whose playing career took him to the KHL. And third, he has spent the past three years as sporting director at Admiral, and took a short stint as head coach last season. In its search for a replacement for Peteris Skudra, Torpedo has looked outside the box. How will the gamble play out? Watch and see …
What he said: “I’m grateful for the trust that Torpedo’s directors have placed in me. Even in my playing days I was always working towards this, I dreamed of one day being the head coach. Nizhny Novgorod is a great hockey city and I’m pleased to be coming here to work. We’ll try to play aggressive, smart, attacking hockey.”
Правлением АНО ХК «Торпедо» принято решение о назначении на должность главного тренера нижегородской команды Дэвида Немировски. Назначение главного тренера прокомментировал и.о. председателя правления АНО ХК «Торпедо» Дмитрий Сватковский: - Мы рады, что смогли достигнуть договоренности с Дэвидом Немировски. Во-первых, это молодой и энергичный специалист, у которого есть большое желание работать и развиваться. Во-вторых, Дэвид имеет богатый опыт выступления за различные клубы, он прекрасно знает Континентальную хоккейную лигу. И в каждом клубе пользовался авторитетом и уважением коллег по команде, тренерского штаба. Не случайно Дэвид приходит в наш клуб не один, а со своим помощником, на которого мы также рассчитываем. В-третьих, самое главное, у нас общий взгляд на то, в какой хоккей должно играть «Торпедо». Дэвид – приверженец современного, атакующего стиля. Именно такую игру со ставкой на наших воспитанников и будет прививать команде новый главный тренер.