The coach of the CSKA told us how he suddenly found himself in a new role and then made the CSKA the best club in the KHL.
Almost two months have passed since the Moscow CSKA team won the second Gagarin Cup in its history. The CSKA's championship is notable not only for the fact that they made an impressive comeback in the final series with a score of 1-3, but also for the head coach, under whose direction the CSKA regained the main trophy of the KHL. Sergey Fedorov, the legendary hockey player, one of the best Russian players in the history of the NHL, managed to achieve the highest result in his very first year as a team mentor.
In an exclusive interview with the Championat, Sergey Viktorovich spoke about the reasons for the grandiose success, understanding all the ins and outs of the coach's work, talked about the difficult path of the CSKA to the trophy, and speculated over the Soviet hockey, criticism and the future of the KHL in the current context.
- You became a champion in your first year as a coach. Have you already realized the scale of this achievement?
- Of course, I have certain thoughts, but this is, first of all, a team victory, a club victory. A lot of ingredients came together, and, of course, the character of the CSKA, all the guys who participated in the playoffs, helped to win.
- The CSKA won back in the final with a score of 1-3 in the series against an opponent who had a very experienced coach. Could you tell us again, why did the CSKA team manage to do such a comeback?
- One would hardly answer this question with a single word. I want to say that we had a no less experienced coaching staff who helped me. We did certain things, we always prepared for matches in a routine mode. Yes, we played two home matches unsuccessfully: of course, we did not expected 0:4 and 0:1. However, after the fourth meets of the series, I felt that we had a fairly good launching ground from which we can only move forward. We managed to adjust motivational training for that, and in terms of hockey, we were preparing in a routine mode. In my opinion, both the coaching staff and the guys continued to believe in the system of the game that we tried to master all the season.
- You said that after two consecutive trailed defeats at home, you realized that the Metallurg had played all its strength cards. That is, at that moment you realized that the Metallurg, let's say, hit the iron ceiling?
- I wouldn't say that in such a wording. It seemed to me then (and I shared my thoughts with the team) that, having lost 0:1 in the fourth match, we took a step forward, but at the same time we understood our opponent, understood how to play against them. The guys reacted correctly, they managed to believe in our system, which we proposed further in the Metallurg during the fifth meet.
- Still in the fifth match, the Metallurg scored two goals at the start of the third period and turned the tables. Wasn't there some kind of panic at that moment, a feeling that all was over?
- No, such a feeling did not and could not arise, since I had to continue working, leading the team, to analyze the opponent's game, understand which links and combinations to put on the ice. Personally, I concentrated on those things that need to be done in order to amend that particular situation, and then try to bring the team to victory.
- Your calmness in the most nervous moments of the playoffs was surprising. Why does a debutant coach have so much composure?
- Probably, it seemed so only from the outside. In fact, there was a huge tension, but I felt the support of my coaching staff: Evgeny Koreshkov, Ravil Yakubov and Vladimir Chebaturkin. The support of our fans and my wards also helped, those guys who were sitting on the bench in front of me, took the ice and fought for the result in each line change.
So I wasn't as calm as it might seem, however, I repeat, at such moments it is important to concentrate on really important things. Maybe it was a little distracting from some intensity. There were moments in the regular season where emotions were brimming over. Yet I analyzed this situation and realized that this is not quite the right approach to working on the coach bench.
- What did the first year of working as a head coach teach you in terms of the professional distinctiveness? After all, you have never managed a team in such a role before.
- This is oratory. You should always be positive, if possible. Of course, beside the sweet words, there was a lot of salt and pepper, and I had to run roughshod over the guys. For me, it was a super-intensive process of learning coaching skills, but my rich experience as a player helped me a lot in difficult situations.
- What is the general role of a coach in a modern top club? Does the coach take everything into their own hands or does the coach competently allocate responsibilities among assistants and hockey players?
- Of course, this is both, and the third, and so on and so forth. The coaching staff also live, rally, play, share their opinions. It is a very intensive process: from the goalkeeping coach to the physical education teacher, it concerns not only those guys who are standing on the bench.
This is the allocation of responsibilities, who is responsible for what. You need to be extremely concentrated, be able to always clearly name those guys who should take the ice and make a result. There is management everywhere: in the rhetoric, when working on the bench, and in the locker room.
- After the final, you stated the feeling that playing was easier than training. Did you find the reason over the month?
- Of course, I found the answer. Nonetheless, I also want to say that my player career has been completed for a long time, and I understand now that there is no easy profession in hockey. There are certain moments everywhere, quite difficult ones, that is why we devote so much time to the training process.
- What type of head coaches would you consider yourself to be now: a coach-psychologist or a coach-strategist? Emotional pumping or methodical spoon-feeding with details?
- I won't classify myself as any type, because there are a lot more options in modern hockey. And I checked them every day — that's a fact. I can definitely say that a coach is a bright, diverse person, a coach needs to react to absolutely everything, and again, the experience of the player helped me in different situations that are not similar to each other. I think that every coach is neither single-minded, nor double-minded, and nor even triple-minded. This is a miscellaneous person who reacts to many episodes of certain matches. But I cannot say that I have developed some type of a coach, and I do not strive for this. My goal is to understand situations on the ice and be able to react to them correctly. Accordingly, the reaction after a successful game is analyzed, considered and put in a positive folder. After an unsuccessful one, the reaction is considered even deeper and sent to the relevant folder.
- You have repeatedly noted at press conferences that all failures should be forgotten after midnight of the day on which they occurred. Is this a psychological technique?
- Yes, I said that, but it's the perfect reaction to failure. No player can worry until midnight and go to bed calmly at 00:01. Some guys can't sleep until 4 in the morning, the emotional stress is a long process. After all, hockey is a super intense game. Nevertheless, the direction is right, especially in such a short tournament as the playoffs.
- Let's refresh the moments of last summer. You were appointed to replace Igor Nikitin right before the start of training camps, and it was a shock for the public. What it was for you?
- It is ambiguous to talk about that period of time...It was unexpected — I'm telling you. I did not expect such a turn of events, such confidence in me of the Supervisory Board of the club and its chairman, Igor Ivanovich Sechin, especially 2-3 days before the start of the off-season. Yet I accepted the challenge and started my career with my sleeves rolled up.
- According to the comments of the club, it was clear that you were appointed, among other things, to make the CSKA's game more spectacular, there were rumours about returning to the Soviet hockey. What did you think on these discussions about the style?
- Having no coaching experience, I spoke about the hockey that I myself played under the guidance of Viktor Vasilyevich Tikhonov. I had no illusions that the hockey played by the Soviet national team and the Soviet CSKA could be introduced in one season into our club of today's times. Still my vision of hockey game style, I think, is liked by any hockey player who likes to play aggressively, keep the initiative in their hands, likes to fight with the puck and for the puck and, of course, likes shooting goals.
- Do you agree that we saw the perfect CSKA team in the playoffs (especially in the first two rounds)?
- Probably, according to a number of criteria. However, I repeat that it is difficult to rebuild the hockey style of an entire team in one season. After all, the guys got used to certain actions that did not quite reflect my vision. However, in the playoffs we tried to play very aggressively and actively. I think that in the final series, with the score of 1-3, that attacking, pressing hockey helped us a lot to amend the situation. Yet, of course, we did not forget about the defense.
- May the Metallurg's game have reminded you more of the style of the Soviet CSKA under Tikhonov?
- I've seen a lot of words said about Metallurg and its hockey game. Yes, I really liked the team myself. But I want to express a personal opinion. After all, Ilya Petrovich Vorobyov had two foreign coaches in his staff, and one of them was a North American. And it was clear to me that the Metallurg shows the general game pattern of all the top NHL teams. I watched some episodes, compared them, and realized that we had to be similar to some extent. But the key question was how to reduce their activity in attack and how to increase their activity when playing with the puck.
- You also worked at the headquarters during the Olympic games, and Russia showed a completely non-Soviet hockey there. Wouldn't you agree?
- The national team always plays very actively and brightly with the puck. My opinion: we didn't have enough exhibition games at the Olympic games, we didn't have enough practice, we weren't able to ramp up our team to show the style that the Russian national team had at the Channel One Cup. Our team had players who could play with the puck like no one else in the world, but, alas, we did not manage to reach our best level. It was for the reasons I have already mentioned.
- Was there such a problem that the composition of the CSKA by mid-July was made up under the Nikitin's requirements, and your views differed in some way?
- Perharps, the composition was selected for some tactical schemes of Igor Valeryevich. But here one needs to understand: we started the season with 10 main team players in the infirmary. We played with two links from the Supreme Hockey League, where Vladimir Chebaturkin worked first, then substituted with Egor Mikhailov. They did a great job, and the guys, having come to the CSKA, adapted to the team in the shortest possible time.
- But the CSKA were unstable over the season. There were matches with a vague game in attack, matches with zero goals and a hockey game far from spectacular one. Was it related to injuries?
- You should understand, during the first 2-2.5 months of the regular season, there were really a dozen players over the banking board, they could not help us. Therefore, of course, it was impossible to make results on-the-go, it is very difficult, you need to train from morning till night for this. However, the schedule of games is intense, sometimes we couldn't score goals when we needed to. There were certain reasons for that, which I won't talk about, but it's clear that completely different guys were playing, prepared for the SHL. Nevertheless, we amended the situation, keeping our rate in the top four in our league. Thanks to the guys who reacted quickly to new partners, we were able to do something. We had a lot of experienced players.
- Did you pay attention to criticism in the media at that time?
- At first, of course, something leaked, but then I realized how the system works: not all information is written in fact, somewhere it is specially presented in a negative way. Since then, I didn't even really learn or read anything. I was just looking at the photos in the articles, and I was glad that we look good on the bench with the guys.
- Now can you tell whether coaching experience is required in general if a person has been in hockey all their life? Did you feel at some moments of the season an acute lack of some knowledge, skills, expertise?
- Honestly, I don't know. That's my answer: I have always felt quite comfortable in the situations we found ourselves in during the match, and when we went to the locker room, to the coach room to prepare for certain games. Again, I repeat that my coaching staff has done a great job with the team, in all the directions I have set. So, as a rule, it was not difficult for me to make some right decisions.
- Will the second year of coaching be harder? Considering that you enter it in the status of a champion.
- Of course, now you can say anything. Still, on the very first day of the training camp, we address all these points to the team, we will discuss all moral and volitional tasks, technical and tactical points at the first meeting, and we will work as usual. I think that nothing is ever easy in hockey and nothing will ever be, so we will prick up our ears and try to work to the maximum.
- The CSKA is losing important people from the championship team. Fedotov, Andronov, the leader of the locker room, Popov may not be able to continue his career. Have you already been thinking over the way to cope with these losses?
- This, of course, is a heavy loss for us, but the hockey life goes on, if there is a gap, something will fill it. We will try to understand who we have lost, and over the off-season we will put together certain combinations that may compensate for these losses.
- Did Andronov's march-off surprise you?
- I'm happy for Sergey. He was our captain, he endured a lot with this injury that he received at the Olympic games. We hoped that he would be on ice much earlier, but as a result, we gave him a chance to heal for sure. And that played an important role: our captain led us to the Gagarin Cup. The hockey life goes on, I am very grateful to Andronov for the whole season. He is a superman and a great hockey player.
- During the last season, you put Okulov in reserve. Did you have any contradictions with Konstantin?
- There are certain visions in any sphere, not only in hockey, there are spelled-out roles, who is responsible for what. I believe that Konstantin coped with his duty, with the role of leader, straightened out the game and progressed after a certain stage of the season. Especially after the Olympic break. Okulov has proved to everyone that he is the main player of the CSKA, who can make a difference in any match.
- Is the CSKA ready to do without mercenaries?
- In the context of the goals our club always set, my answer "yes" or "no" will be premature. Yet I know for sure that we have reserves, that our guys from the SHL and from the JHL are eager to join the team, they prove and show every day that they deserve to represent the best club in our country. Therefore, we are calmly monitoring this situation, we are working with it. I would like us to eventually pay attention to our guys and give them a chance in the KHL.
- The topic of the limit is one of the most discussed ones. Should the CSKA cut the number of foreigners?
- I won't be able to answer conceptually, because I don't think anything depends on me or anyone at the CSKA. We will work on the situation, which will be announced by our leaders in the Ministry of Sports and the KHL.
- What do you think about Russia's suspension from all international competitions for another year? Is it possible to develop by live and breathe only within your own country?
- Here I can only express my point of view, probably, without having all the information. It seems to me that we should admit the fact that we have been suspended, and carry on working within this country. My opinion is based on the concept that prevailed in the USSR. Therefore, based on that experience, we could concentrate the leading players in the best teams, in the true hockey centers. In addition, every game of the regular season, no matter how many there are in the season, even if not 60-70, but 40, should be uncompromising. In this case, even stewing in our own juice, we will be able to represent a certain force in the international arena when Russia returns there.
While we are suspended, we can use this period productively. I already expressed this point of view at the coach council, which was held at the end of the season, to our managers and colleagues working in the Ice Hockey Federation and responsible for the KHL. Strong decisions are required to implement such a program, but we know that hockey in the USSR did not just exist, but proved its worth. There are still true hockey centers in Russia, they are at the local level, they just need developing, and then there will be a tangible result. As for the other teams, we need to think about what to do with them. I don't have an answer to this question yet.