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King of Russia: A Year in the Russian Super League Paperback – September 30, 2008

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About the Author

Dave King was coach of Canada’s national team for nine years, during which he coached the team to three Olympic games and a silver medal at Albertville in 1992. He has also been the coach of the NHL’s Calgary Flames and Columbus Blue Jackets, as well as the assistant coach for the Montreal Canadiens. He had taken a job with the top team in Finland, Helsinki IFK, before Magnitogorsk began to court him.

Eric Duhatschek was the winner of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award for “distinguished contributions to hockey writing” in 2001. In 2000, after twenty years of writing about the NHL and the Calgary Flames, he joined globeandmail.com, where he writes a five-times-a-week NHL column. A frequent contributor to Hockey Night in Canada’s Satellite Hot Stove segment, he has covered four Winter Olympics, nineteen Stanley Cup finals, every Canada Cup and World Cup since 1981, plus two world championships. Most recently, he was appointed as the newest member of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s annual Selection Committee.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

PART 1 SUMMER


July 5, 2005

Some people told me I was crazy to do this, and at this precise moment I’m not sure I would disagree. I am standing on the ice surface at the Magnitogorsk Arena, in the heart of Mother Russia, my new home away from home for the next ten months. I am jetlagged and sleep-­deprived and fighting a lot of warring emotions. Thirty-­six hours ago I was half a world away in Saskatoon, preparing for the adventure of a lifetime. Midway through last spring I’d been contacted by Serge Levin, a Russian hockey agent, to see if I was interested in becoming the first Canadian to coach a team in the Russian Super League. At the time, he ­didn’t mention which team it might be. He only wanted to gauge my interest in coming to Russia in the first place.

During the past quarter of a century, the flow of hockey talent between Russia and North America has mostly gone in one direction. The nhl’s appetite for more and better players saw them recruit heavily in Russia, and over time there have been Russians who’ve led the league in goal-­scoring, Russians who’ve won the rookie of the year award, and dozens of Russians who’ve seen their names engraved on the Stanley Cup.

More recently, as a result of the political and economic upheaval that has characterized Russian life since the fall of Communism, there has been something of a reverse migration. Salaries have become more competitive there and a handful of teams, with dollars to burn, have lured some of their homegrown talent back.

Then, in the year of the nhl lockout, even some of our best-­known Canadian players (Vincent Lecavalier, Dany Heatley, and Brad Richards, to name three) came to play in the Super League. But coaching? That was different. That had never been done before. There have been Russian assistant coaches in the nhl and a few European-­born coaches in Russia, but no team had ever been willing to turn the keys over to a Canadian . . . until now.

Two days before I left Canada, I was in Eston, Saskatchewan, for a family get-­together. And since training camps open here in early July, I flew from Saskatoon to Toronto to London to Moscow, arriving in the Russian capital at 3:45 in the afternoon.

Unfortunately, the departure time of the final leg of my journey — from Domodedovo Airport in Moscow to Magnitogorsk — had been pushed back five-­and-­a-­half hours, from six to eleven-­thirty p.m., thanks to the new summer travel schedule. As Russia hiccups its way along the path towards capitalism the airlines are constantly short of planes, and as a result they need to be in service virtually twenty-­four hours a day. On the smaller, less-­travelled routes, they commonly cancel some flights and add others based on aircraft availability. So the last thing I needed was the first thing that happened to me — a lengthy layover in the Russian capital. Factoring in the two-­hour time change from Moscow to Magnitogorsk, by the time Siberian Airlines Flight No. 12 touched down, it was three-­thirty in the morning.

One hour later, in the pitch dark, I surveyed as well as I could my new home, where my wife, Linda, and I would live until the end of the hockey season. My new team wanted me on the ice bright and early that same day, so I had a choice — sleep for ninety minutes or stay up and plod through without sleep. I opted for a quick catnap and then walked from my apartment to the arena, wondering for the first time (but probably not for the last), What am I doing here?

I’m fifty-­seven years old. I’ve coached Canada’s national team through three Winter Olympic Games. I’ve had two turns as a head coach in the nhl (with the Calgary Flames and the Columbus Blue Jackets). I spent the past two years in the comparatively stable world of the German Elite League, coaching in Hamburg. And when the Russians called I’d had a job lined up in Helsinki, Finland, for the year.
Even though my contract with Magnitogorsk was negotiated months ago, I really ­don’t know much about what I’ve let myself in for. I ­don’t know my assistant coaches; I ­don’t know the language; and, with one or two exceptions, I ­don’t know the players.

I’m going into this exercise cold turkey, and even though it’s July, it’s a grey, cold day — perfect hockey weather, in other words. From the outside, the arena matches the weather — and my mood. It’s common in Russia for a building that’s only fifteen to twenty years old (and ought to be in relatively decent shape) to be deteriorating far faster than it should. Under the former political regime money would often be allocated for construction, but nothing was ever set aside for maintenance, so no maintenance would be done. It’s 8:15 a.m. on my first day on the job and the first group of players is scheduled to go on the ice at ten. If this were an nhl practice, everybody would be here already — trainers, equipment managers, and naturally the players as well. Instead, it’s just me and a couple of “key” ladies, one of whom recognized me and let me in the door.

Years ago, I had a Russian player with the Calgary Flames named Sergei Makarov, who was a member of the famous klm line. The Soviets perennially won the world championships in that era, and Makarov had always been a key contributor. He eventually came to the nhl at the age of thirty-­one, along with the other members of his “unit” — Igor Larionov, Vladimir Krutov, Alexei Kasatonov, and Slava Fetisov. When he played for me, I could never get used to the fact that Makarov would do exactly what my team was doing right now. He would appear just before practice began and then would be gone minutes after training was completed. I thought that was just Sergei’s way. Now I’m beginning to suspect that this may actually be the Russian way. We’ll see if that changes over the course of the season.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Emblem Editions; Reprint edition (September 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0771095708
  • ISBN-13: 978-0771095702
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,288,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Carol S. Bradley on January 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed reading this book. Had to put it down once in a while to get some sleep! I had read an earlier book about the first NHL player that went to Russia. This fits in well with that book. A very good update about the players. The world hockey that you don't hear about in the States, and Canada.
You will recognize the names. A good book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By B. Trusinsky on February 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is a terrific almost day-by-day account of the experience Dave King had coaching in Russia. I was particularly interested in this title because, besides being an avid hockey fan from Minnesota -practically a Canadian province in terms of hockey- I am also someone who has been interested in first, the Soviet Union as a teenager, and now Russia and its transition away from communism. Before I read it, I wondered how the Russian players, media and fans would treat him. I also wondered whether or not and to what extent he would succeed in this literally foreign hockey league, if he would be mugged or meet the Russian mafia (as Russia has a bit of a reputation for "lawlessness"). I also wondered how he would manage to reside in a country and if he would be insulated from some of its problems. ALL of these questions are answered, but you'll have to read it to find out! It is a GREAT and EASY read!! I highly recommend it!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ice Linux on November 13, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is essentially the coach's daily diary, describing his year in Russia and organized around the four seasons (although Spring was incorrectly labeled as Winter in my copy). Because of the diary format, it's easy to put down and pick up again at your leisure, without losing the thread.

Having lived a couple of years in the former Eastern bloc, it jogged memories of my experiences and some of the struggles. You'll get observations and insight on a wide range of different aspects of daily life and nuances of the culture. The discussion of youth hockey in Russia (page 103 and following) is fascinating. It's no surprise that so many Russian-trained players are excelling in the NHL. Be sure to read the Epilogue and Afterward, which put the whole adventure in nice perspective.
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By WDX2BB on December 2, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dave King ranks as one of the most well-known "teachers" in the hockey coaching profession. He's always had a reputation as a student of the game, dating back to his time at least as far back as his time with the Canadian national team in the 1980's.

King had a couple of chances to coach NHL teams (Calgary and Columbus), but those didn't work out for the usual reasons -- it's not a business for the insecure. But King has always moved on, looking for students and a fresh sheet of ice.

That search led him to Russia some years ago, where he became the first Canadian coach of a team in the Russian Super League. That the backdrop for this often compelling book, "King of Russia."

King took over the team in Magnitogorsk, a medium-sized town dominated by the steel industry on the Ural River in the middle of Russia. He didn't know the language, didn't know his players, and didn't know the league. But he did know he was ready for an adventure.

It's fair to say he got one. The hockey part of the 2005-06 season takes up most of the story. The Russian Super League was something of a mystery to North Americans, even if they might recognize a few of the names here. When King was there, his best player was Evbeny Malkin, a high draft choice who is now doing well with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Former NHL players Anders Erksson, Dmitri Yushkevich and Igor Korolev also were around. Since only three imports are allowed per team, more or less (rules sometimes get stretched in Russia), the rest of the squad consisted of Russians who weren't good enough to play in the NHL or who simply wanted to stay in their home country. So the talent level probably is around that of the American Hockey League -- think Triple-A baseball.
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By Brian Maitland on November 21, 2011
Format: Paperback
Ex-Canadian Olympic team coach Dave King seems the perfect guy to be the first Canadian coach in Russia's Super League (now known as the Continental Hockey League) and we're so lucky he kept this running diary/journal of his time there. Eric "Du-hat-trick" adds his usual editing and tight writing style as the ghost writer on this and it shows as this is a real page turner.

The best thing you learn about the hockey part is how Russians train and how dedicated most of them are to drills and training (both on- and off-ice). If anyone ever has any doubts about their heart (hello, Don Cherry), they need to read this book. The added bonus was King was coaching Evgeni Malkin this particular year before he moved to the Pittsburgh Penguins and you can feel how much joy he brings to the rink unlike many of his stoic (yes, the stereotype fits at times, and King explains why this is connected to how Russian coaches still coach old school at all levels of the game) Russian teammates.

King's story does not stop at the rink, and although he doesn't have as much contact as he'd like with the locals bar the usual (i.e., shopping or at restaurants), you do get a strong picture of life in the industrial town of Magnitogorsk where he was based and how Russia is changing so much and how some things change ever so slowly (the hunt for fresh produce is almost like a spy novel throughout the book). Plus we get a look at all these other "famous" teams, personalities and cities throughout the league plus throw in the Spengler Cup and a pre-season camp in Germany.

The Epilogue and Afterword fill us in on what happened after his first season in Russia. That's sort of the cherry on top of this delicious tale of hockey in a culture we know so little of here in Canada.
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