Fetisov Aims to Recreate Russia’s Past Glory

By Jake Dole
On Monday, August 20, 2001, Vyacheslav Fetisov was officially named the General Manager and Head Coach of team Russia for the Olympic games in Salt Lake City. Although the news came somewhat as a shock to the people in North America, rumours had been going around Russia for the better part of the week prior to the announcement. Needless to say, Monday’s press conference did not seem at all like news to the hockey media in Russia.

Getting axed is Boris Mikhailov, the man whose contract ran with the Olympiad through the Olympics. In is Fetisov, a 43-year old, former Soviet top defenseman and a legend of Russian hockey. With no head coaching, nor managerial experience, Fetisov will be in for a long run to assemble and prepare a team that is already behind it’s schedule. Despite the lack of Olympic experience, Fetisov seems to have all the makings of a solid coach; an assistant with the New Jersey Devils, he was a key contributor to the Devils’ back-to-back Stanley Cup finals appearances. The resurgence of star Alexander Mogilny has also been directly linked to Fetisov’s coaching tactics.

At the age of 43, Fetisov is one the youngest Head Coaches in the history of the Russian/Soviet Olympic team. At 39, Arkadi Chernishev debuted in 1954, and Anatoli Tarasov coached the Soviets in 1958 at the age of 40. There is no doubt that Fetisov will be under a lot of scrutiny, as all of his moves will be monitored under the microscope. If Russia fails at the Olympic games, the defeat could be hard to swallow. Although the expectations are not quite high as 10 years ago, nothing less than gold is expected from Fetisov and team Russia this time around.

Fetisov will get help from the likes of Vladimir Yurzinov and Victor Tikhonov. Boris Mikhailov will be expected to contribute also, and has not shown any signs of holding a grudge. In the near future, Fetisov will be expected to name his assistants for the trip to Salt Lake City. Yurzinov and Mikhailov look to be the front runners for the position.

Once the press conference got under way, the President of the Russian Olympic Committee, Leonid Tarachev, mentioned that he had talks with all the sides involved, including Boris Mikhailov. He also made mention of meeting the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin (with Fetisov and Pavel Bure also present), to decide on the coaching situation for the Russian squad. Ultimately, the decision was made, and Fetisov was appointed (Although Putin did not personally give Fetisov the job, it is reported that he gave him his support).

At the press conference, Boris Mikhailov (who was officially told about his firing only moments before the actual public announcement) stated that he will be willing to aid Vyacheslav Fetisov by any means possible.

The word of Fetisov’s hiring received mixed reaction in the hockey community of Russia. A lot of the boosters of Boris Mikhailov were very open in their support for the former head coach. Boris Mayorov, the president of the club Spartak, stated that, “if the heads of the federation had agreed on Mikhailov, then he should have remained at his post”. However, the coach of the club Salavat Yulaev, Sergei Nikolaev had a different perspective. “I think that Fetisov, who has no serious experience with teams, and Mikhailov, who has not worked with NHL players, were roughly equal-standing candidates. However, with Fetisov putting so much effort into taking hold of the post, then let him get a taste of it.”

The Plans Ahead

After the press conference, Vyacheslav Fetisov offered his thoughts on what is in the immediate future for team Russia. First of all, Fetisov mentioned that he promised to the President, Vladimir Putin, that he will do everything in his power, so that the team performs to the best of it’s ability. He also mentioned that the squad will be represented by those deserving to make the team. Fetisov stated that he had hired people to monitor the success of eligible Russian hockey players, in an attempt to select only those deserving of the honour.

Fetisov noted that he will be glad to work with Boris Mikhailov, in order to meet the best interests of the team. He didn’t make mention of the exact time when the remaining players will be named for the team, but Fetisov said that there is a specific date, when an official announcement will be made.

According to Fetisov, there is hope that Evgeni Nabokov might still play for team Russia. The Calder Trophy winner, was disallowed to represent the country, because he had suited up for Kazakhstan when he was a junior. “He was born in the USSR, and it is not his fault that the country broke up”, said Fetisov, “we will be speaking with the president of the IIHF, and will attempt to get hold of other sources to try and resolve the situation. Right now, we need a second proven goalkeeper, with NHL and international experience.”

In the matter of adding names to the roster, Fetisov mentioned that those who refuse to go, will not be pleaded with; although, the reasons will have to be acknowledged. Fetisov added that he will talk to the likes of Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Mogilny, and others. Fetisov stated that Igor Larionov will be treated as a player candidate, and denied the rumours of Larionov becoming an assistant coach.

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“The first time I offered Vyacheslav Fetisov to work with the Olympic team as a General Manager was a year ago. The team is in need of a person with specific knowledge of the National Hockey League, as well as natural coaching ability. For a long time, we couldn’t decide on Fetisov’s potential role with the team. However, now, the situation has been resolved.” – President of the Ice Hockey Federation of Russia, Alexander Steblin.

“Every match, every moment of a game, hockey players need to take upon the responsibility to fight for the prestige for their country. In order to accomplish our goal, it is vital to be of the same mind set.” – General Manager and Head Coach of Team Russia, Vyacheslav Fetisov.

“This is a national embarassment.” – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Russia’s lackluster performance at the World Championships in St. Petersburg in 2000.

“I’m not afraid of anything anymore” – President of IHFR Alexander Steblin on whether he is afraid of falling out of favour with the Russian coaches after axing Boris Mikhailov.

“For the result, I will be responsible, and in some way, the federation. We won’t hold vigorous workouts before the start of the Olympics – the players will arrive two days in preparation for the tournament. By that time, the NHL season will be in a break, and I am hoping that everyone will be in shape. I never refused to help the coaches of national squads, and if Boris Mikhailov will come to me with questions regarding the preparation of the team for the championship, I’ll be willing to offer my help”. – General Manager and Head Coach of Team Russia, Vyacheslav Fetisov.

“(Fetisov) will have long work ahead of him, such as naming his assistants, and the rest of the team in time for the Olympics. As you already know, I am being considered for the job of an assistant. I note that I am ready to offer my knowledge and experience in the aid of the Olympic team.” – Boris Mikhailov.

“The higher powers of Russia are not at peace with the hockey situation in the county”. President of the Russian Olympic Committee Leonid Tiagachev.

“In my career, I had the opportunity to work with many experienced coaches, and from every one of them I learned a lot of things”. General Manager and Head Coach of Team Russia, Vyacheslav Fetisov.

The Bottom Line

The announcement of Fetisov becoming Russia’s General Manager and Head Coach, foreshadows a new beginning for hockey in the country. Trouble could arise if the team fails in Salt Lake City, however there is now hope that Russian NHL stars will show up, which should result in a fully competitive squad. Failure is not being tolerated in Russia, so one can expect heads to roll if the finish is less than satisfactory.