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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
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.
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.
Top Customer Reviews
You will recognize the names. A good book.
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The only book out there that gives us a real picture of life in the KHL. What's more, King is a coach. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Ronnie Aigle
Hockey book. makes you want to be an agent. shows the inside of being an agent. if you like to know about the ins and outs of euro hockey hsi is the read for you.Published 19 months ago by Robert Sobocan
I've been curious about the KHL and what life is like in Russia. This book does a good job of explain both.Published on August 27, 2014 by ValleySami
For really interesting point of view on Russia. And for kind feedback on my fav player Dimitri Yushkevich defence warriorPublished on April 6, 2014 by Dmitry Zazharskiy
Great read with wonderful anecdotes and an insight into the world of Russian hockey written by a person who was there and knows.Published on March 14, 2014 by Patricia MacAulay
Just an amazing hockey book from a very interesting perspective. Dave King had coached in the NHL and for the Canadien National team, as well as other locations, before accepting... Read morePublished on November 6, 2013 by Jake Gavin
Very informative about hockey and life in general in Russia. A little dated but still informative. Well written and moved at a decent pace.Published on September 14, 2013 by NostalgiaLover
Dave King has enjoyed a productive NHL coaching career, but things took a turn into the bizarre during the 2005-2006 season when he decided to head across the Atlantic for a head... Read morePublished on August 16, 2013 by Dirk Hoag
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... Read morePublished on November 13, 2009 by Ice Linux