Gillian Kemmerer Gillian Kemmerer
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Amur Khabarovsk's Michal Jordán has played hockey with a tiger. That is not to be confused, however, with the handful of times that another Michael Jordan played golf with one (Tiger Woods, to be exact). While the possibilities for Chicago Bulls jokes are endless, there is one point that is no laughing matter—Khabarovsk will require a full-court press to reverse its misfortunes from seasons past. The KHL’s own Jordán was all business when it came to Amur’s upcoming challenges, crowned with a head coaching shock just days into preseason.

A 2008 Carolina Hurricanes draft pick, Jordán moved to America at the age of seventeen to play major junior before an AHL debut with the Charlotte Checkers in 2010. He spent six seasons between NHL and AHL locker rooms prior to signing with Ak Bars Kazan in 2016, his first foray into Russia. After one season in Tatarstan, Jordán migrated to the frozen Far East to anchor Amur’s defensive core.

After the surprise announcement last week that head coach Alexander Gulyavtsev would depart his role, former assistant coach Pavel Torgaev stepped into the limelight to lead Amur through a double-header with Sibir. While the results were split, Amur showed flashes of its heartbreaking capability—including a surprise Gordie Howe hat trick from Denis Golubev. I caught up with Jordán as the team arrived in Moscow ahead of several preseason clashes. We discussed the upcoming year, his Tiger King moment and—yes, of course—The Last Dance.

Gillian Kemmerer (GK): Let’s start with my favorite question of this season—what is the route you had to take to get to Khabarovsk?

Michal Jordán (MJ): I had to drive three and a half hours to Prague, and then the next morning, I flew from Prague to Frankfurt. We [import players and coaches] waited there for seven hours, I think, and then we flew to Magnitogorsk. From there, we went to Yaroslavl. We got on a minivan for five hours to Moscow and had breakfast at the hotel. I think we were there for five or six hours. Then we went to the airport and flew eight hours to Khabarovsk. That was a tough schedule, but the teams did whatever they had to do to get the imports to the KHL.

GK: All-in, how long did it take?

MJ: It was about forty-three hours, I think. I was pretty glad to be in my apartment in Khabarovsk, that's for sure!

GK: The preseason drama did not end there. Alexander Gulyavtsev stepped down as your head coach last week. How is the team dealing with this news?

MJ: It’s tough for sure. Alexander Vyacheslavovich—he’s a great coach and an even better human being. Obviously it was tough for me, and I'm pretty sure for the guys too. The style of the game we played, I think most of the guys really liked it. As for him, family stuff always comes first, and I just wish him luck that everything goes his way. It was tough but life goes on, and we have to battle through that. Right now, our assistant coach [Pavel Torgaev] moved to the head coaching position. We'll see how things go, but it's good for us that he wants to play a similar style with which we had success last year. Most of the guys are really familiar with that.

GK: You’ve referenced Gulyavtsev and Torgaev’s style a few times—can you put a finer point on it?

MJ: There were times when I was expecting that there would be yelling or panic, but those guys played hockey and I was surprised. They were always so calm and telling us, "Relax, you guys are good players. It's not going your way. Don't panic, play your game, and it's going to turn around.” We had some times when we lost six, seven games in a row, or we got so hot and won eight, or something like that. It was crazy that we didn't panic, but I think the guys really appreciated that too. And most importantly, we missed the playoffs by two points. Two months to the end of this season, no one was expecting that we would make a push for the playoffs, but playing the last couple of games, the full rink was cheering. Unfortunately it didn't work out, but as a group of players, we felt like we were a good team. Most guys signed new deals, so I hope we will get a good team this year.

GK: Amur pulled off a few striking defeats last season, but as you’ve mentioned, you finished just shy of eighth. What do you think the major pain point has been for the last two seasons that prevented a playoff appearance?

MJ: I don’t know—it’s a really good and hard question. It's a long season, especially with our travel. Sometimes you just don't have that much power. I don't want to make any excuses, but the travel is hard and sometimes it gets to you. We would lose a couple of games, but I think we always reacted really well to it. We didn't panic, we just kept working hard and playing our games. It turned around and we were in the race for the playoffs up until the end—so that was pretty cool. I think that gave us hope for the next season, that if we corrected some things and became consistent, we could do really well and maybe make the playoffs.

GK: You’ve just come off of a double-header with Sibir. What have you learned about this team so far in preseason?

MJ: I think we scored more goals than we did last year. We’ve really struggled with scoring goals. Our goaltending is great, and they pretty much gave us a chance in every game to grab some points. We lost so many games, I don't know, two to one. One-nothing. Those two games have shown that we may be able to score more goals, and that could help us in the season, but we are still missing some guys from the lineup waiting for visas. I think that when we are all here, we can have a really good team this year.

GK: Not to mention a casual Gordie Howe hat trick last game…

MJ: Yeah, that was Denis Golubev. He had a really good game and stood up for one of our younger guys, which no one really expects in a preseason game. He showed that we are playing for each other, and even if the guy is new, he stepped up for him. It showed a lot of character.

GK: The legendary Alexander Mogilny is the president of Amur. How much do you get to interact with him?

MJ: Like you said, he's pretty much a legend and has made such a great name for himself in both Russia and the world. He doesn't go on the ice with us, but he watches practices and comes to the games. If there's something wrong, he comes to the locker room and tells the guys what they should change. When he comes to the locker room, it shows that he cares and wants to improve the team—so I think that’s great.

GK: Nail Yakupov was one of the highest-profile transfers of the off-season. Have you had the chance to work with him yet?

MJ: When I first got to Khabarovsk, we had three or four whole days practicing together. And I hope he stays, but there are always some big question marks around that. The media’s been writing a lot about it. If he stays, I feel like we're going to be way better because he's a great player. From watching him practice, his shot is incredible. He was working so hard too, the first couple of days…he was just a machine. It shows that he cares about himself, about the team, and he wants to improve as well. I think it’s great for the young guys to see that whatever he has done in his career, he always had to earn it by working hard. It's pretty cool to see he's working hard and pushing himself, and on the other hand, it's going to push other players on the team as well.

GK: Instagram tells me that you’ve played alongside some other fierce competitors too—including a tiger. How on earth did that happen?

MJ: There's a guy in a Moscow who rescues tigers. He’s got a big house and he’s pretty much taking care of them. Our PR guy came up with the idea that we could meet them and make some videos in the locker room for our fans. I think it was pretty cool for us, and even for him to get to know us and do some videos. I'm really scared of tigers and everything, but that little guy was just awesome. I was sending pictures and videos to my kids, and they loved it.

GK: How would you describe expat life in Russia’s Far East?

MJ: To be honest, I really like it. I love the team and the fans, and the people in Khabarovsk are very nice. Always when you go out on the street, they say hi to you, ask how you're doing and how is the team. It's really cold there, but I love that during the winter, the sun is up all of the time. Even when you’re tired after a flight or something like that, when you go outside, the sun gives you a little bit more power. I like that more than when you are in the wintertime in Moscow or Kazan and there’s not much sun. It's a little bit more depressing.

GK: What are some of your passions outside of hockey? I saw that you recently opened a restaurant in the Czech Republic.

MJ: We opened a restaurant one hour from our hometown. My wife's sister is taking care of it, and I go there once a week to see how they're doing. I can fill the beer—there’s so much background behind it. You always have to wash the glass with one sponge, and you can only wash the glass in cold water. Then it’s about how you pour it in a glass, which is a process too. I never really thought about that, but it was pretty cool to learn. Other than that, I have two kids. One is going to school, and the other is in preschool. My son plays hockey and my daughter started playing tennis, so everything goes around the kids!

GK: Do we have a budding defenseman in the Jordan family?

MJ: He wants to score goals, so he plays center. It’s pretty cool that he had the chance to play hockey in the States and now in Russia. He’s gotten to see different styles of hockey, and it's pretty tough for him as well. Each year he's finding new friends, he's on a new team, so I think it's really good for him for the future as well. He can speak three different languages.

GK: Did your own father bring you into hockey?

MJ: My dad played hockey and suffered a big knee injury, so he didn't really want me to play. I guess my parents figured something out and eventually let me try it. I think I started when I was four years old. I always remembered when the Czech team won the Nagano ’98 Olympic Games. I woke up at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning to watch the games, so that's pretty much my first big memory.

GK: That must have made it extra special for you to represent the Czech Republic at the Olympics in 2018.

MJ: When you're watching those national team games, you always dream about that—to play for your country. It's a huge honor. I am really fortunate that I've been a part of it many times, and it's really cool. I’m disappointed that I never had the chance to win a medal, but never say never. I hope one day that I can help the Czech team to bring home a medal from the World Championships or something like that.

GK: I swore I would keep Michael Jordan jokes to a minimum, but obviously “The Last Dance” made waves in the U.S. all summer. Who would you consider to be your Scottie Pippen?

MJ: There are a lot of guys! I know they're going to read this and I don't want to say one name, because other guys would get upset and I would take some heat for it. [Laughs] So I'm just going to keep it for myself. But yeah, I watched the series and I loved it. It was so cool. For fans, you come to the games, watch them, and that's pretty much it. Maybe you follow the guys on Instagram or social media, but to see how they react during the games and in the locker room after games, it was just awesome. I love to watch stuff like that. You feel what they are going through on a daily basis.

GK: As a member of an Eastern Conference team, your travel schedule is crazier than most. What did you do on all of those plane rides last year?

MJ: I think it was last year or two years ago, I read like twelve or thirteen books. I’ve never read that many books in my whole life. I read Czech books and I like biographies. After that, I watched Netflix a lot, and obviously when you have some time, you try to sleep on the plane. You have to make your plan.

Gillian Kemmerer Gillian Kemmerer
exclusive for khl.ru

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