About the first year of work as a head coach, the victory with CSKA and prospects in the NHL.
"We didn't lose faith in ourselves and in our game"
— A month has passed since CSKA won the Gagarin Cup, the first emotions have subsided. What do you feel now?
— The nervous tension slowly subsides, you begin to feel more or less a functional person, and not a sharpened hockey coach. Although the season ended a month ago, there is still a feeling of fatigue. Maybe more moral than physical.
— How many days did it take you to exhale a little and come to a more normal state?
— In the last three or five days, I managed to rest a little, go to the sea for four days. The heat helped to relax.
— Are you planning to rest now, or are you already thinking about the next season?
— I plan to have a rest, but in the second half of May we have already started discussing issues concerning the future of the championship.
— When Avangard won the cup last year, Alexey Volkov and Bob Hartley sat down almost the next day and started discussing the squad for next season. Did you have a conversation with Igor Esmantovich at CSKA right away?
— We have been communicating quite closely all season and the playoffs on all the necessary points. We do not postpone anything for one final day, everything goes on as usual, we choose the time and place and discuss what needs to be solved in a calm atmosphere.
— After the victory, you said: "The turning point was 48 hours after 1-3 in the series." Could you tell us how you rebuilt the team, due to which you managed to change the course of the series?
— They didn't interpret my words quite correctly. It was said that the next 48 hours after losing two home matches were the hardest days, nights and hours until the next game. The next match was important for us, there was no way back, and we had to do everything possible to return the series to Moscow. We have been preparing very seriously, albeit in the normal mode. After the last game at home, when we lost 0:1, we realized that we had taken a step in the right direction, but, unfortunately, our scoring rate left much to be desired. Plus, as I have already said, we as a team, including the coaching staff, have adapted to the style of play of our opponent.
— You said that there were sleepless nights. Couldn't sleep a wink?
— I didn't say about sleepless nights, I said that they were tense. I sleep well. If you don't rest, you won't be able to perform your functions clearly. There were heavy flights, nights, but as soon as it came to sleep, I immediately rested. It was necessary to unload the head to be fresh the next day.
— What was the psychological state of the team after 1-3? Have you seen that someone has lost faith in themselves?
— This is a very deep and tough question in terms of losing faith. I am sure that we did not lose faith in ourselves and in our game. But our task as the coaching staff was to explain — we are to blame for what happened. If we remove certain technical and tactical points, clean up our defense zone, play more tightly in the middle zone, play without ejections, then we will succeed. It seemed to me that the guys, even after the 0:1 defeat, still calmly left the arena, everyone was in normal working condition, although they understood that two games at home were completely unsuccessful for us.
"I realized that I didn't have time sometimes"
— There are two opinions: some call you a legend, a man who won the cup at the first attempt, others say that the "baggage" of the previous coach helped you in the form of the backbone of the team and the coaching staff. Is the truth somewhere in between?
— Of course, Igor Valeryevich (Nikitin. — Sport24) did a phenomenal job at our club, he worked for CSKA for a very long time. As for me personally, I probably didn't have enough coaching experience anyway. As I have already said, after the appointment there was a very intensive work, and every day I had to study and think about a lot of new details for myself. In addition to the two points you asked about, there are 35-40 other directions.
— When you went to the Olympics for a month, were you worried that you were leaving the club for such a long time?
— I was worried before I left for training camp on January 17. But in January we already clearly understood who would remain in charge at CSKA and who would help. The coaching staff that remained, with Ravil Yakubov, Evgeny Koreshkov and Vladimir Chebaturkin, coped with their task perfectly and prepared the guys. We discussed almost every day before and during the Olympics all the aspects of preparation.
— Did you quickly manage to switch from the national team to the club after the Olympics?
— I had a duty to switch. I switched over quickly. But, like, probably, other Olympians, it was psychologically difficult. I don't know how it happened, this is the first experience. I understood that I didn't have enough time sometimes, I wasn't at ease after arrival. Literally a week later, everything fell into place. And again I want to mention my coaching staff, who helped in these few days before the first game of the playoffs.
— Did you notice that the guys — Nesterov, Grigorenko, Fedotov and others — also had a hard time switching?
— I assumed that it was not easy for them, but I tried not to notice the obvious. We wanted to give the guys a new impulse, a new breath, a new cohesion. We held a meeting and a team dinner together, tried to do all the necessary things that unite the team after a long separation. I think we managed to do it in a very short time.
— From the outside there was an impression that CSKA passed two rounds of the playoffs very easily. Was it so, and did the absence of defeats bother you?
— Of course, we did not work for defeats. What you said is only an impression from the outside. These were persistent series, each game could go in either direction. I am glad that our team has found a way out of the most difficult situations.
"It was about an injury that could end Andronov's career"
— In December , in an interview , you said: "I will walk through a minefield not only this season, but for several years." Don't you think it will be a little easier for you to win the Gagarin Cup?
— This will probably remain in the past. A new season, a new preseason, newcomers — it's a new feeling, a new chemistry and a new atmosphere. Of course, the opponents will be better. After all, it's hard to go through five years or a decade of coaching in one season. I think it's just beginning.
— How is the work on the recruitment of the team being built in CSKA? Igor Esmantovich discusses the candidates of newcomers with you?
— It's not the first year we've been working together. There are different situations. Directly, when we worked together at the club, we discussed certain candidates. Over the past year, we have had several conversations about upcoming acquisitions. Igor Vyacheslavovich asked my opinion, sometimes he asked the opinion of the entire coaching staff. There are personal conversations and general meetings with the scouts and with the head of our selection service Alexey Troshchinsky. Answering your question cornyly: yes, we consult, exchange opinions before taking any step.
— Did you have a conversation with Ivan Fedotov, did you persuade him to stay and not go to Philadelphia?
— No, there was no such conversation. There was simply no time, I didn't have time, at those moments the tasks were more important. It was not possible to sit down and discuss everything in a calm atmosphere.
— Sergey Andronov moved to Lokomotiv. In December, you said that the captain helped you a lot when you took over CSKA. During the celebration of the championship, it seemed that things were not going so smoothly between you, Andronov refused to answer a question about your work. What was it really like?
— An impression will always remain an impression. The time after the Olympics was very difficult for Sergey. It was about an injury that could end his career. As far as I know, at the Olympics he twice slightly damaged something that was already in a serious, one might say, comatose form. His recovery process took a long time. And the doctors, and Sergey himself, and I, and the entire coaching staff wanted only one thing: that there would be no consequences. We could not risk Sergei, as he is our captain, our leader. We wanted him to come out completely healthy. Which is what happened. His appearance immediately gave new strength to the team. Although we complicated our task, we were able to rectify the situation and win the Gagarin Cup as a result. Sergey is our captain, he supported us, he was recovering. And we endured, waited every day for medical news. And Sergey endured, because he probably wanted to play in any condition. We were able to wait for the player's full recovery so that there would be no relapse later.
— Did you have any disagreements with him during the season?
— There were no disagreements for one simple reason — we were doing the same thing. We must pay tribute to the journalists: they always ask important and weighty questions when there is a celebration. You can't answer in one sentence when celebrating such a trophy as the Gagarin Cup.
"Couldn't just get in the car and drive away"
— Alexander Popov went to the seventh match with a serious injury. I was struck by the story when he could not go out for the third period, sat in the doctor's office and watched the game on a tablet with tears in his eyes, did not come out to celebrate. You knew his diagnosis. Were you surprised that he came out to play?
— I was not surprised by his desire to play, even knowing the diagnosis. I think that this is a sporting feat. This is the character that helped our team achieve such a result. This is the leader who came out with a torn leg and scored a goal. He put his health on the block of our victory.
— Have you often seen such examples of athletic feats in your career?
— Every year.
— In my impression, CSKA, having won in Magnitogorsk, did not celebrate the victory in the most stormy way. I was surprised that you were not the first to approach the cup and drink champagne from it, none of the players said an introductory speech dedicated to you, you were not rocked on ice. As if he is not the head coach, but the creator of victory.
— A look from the outside, feelings, impressions… I think that we brought the seventh game to victory with dignity and celebrated it with dignity, as it was possible. Probably, journalists and fans are interested in all this. I am glad that journalists are asking about this. But I will tell you personally from myself: this is a victory for my guys, they deserved it, and in my mind they should have been the first to approach the cup. I wanted to see how it would be. At that time I didn't fully understand what had happened myself, I also wanted to enjoy this moment: very intimate, unusual, unique and quivering.
— Did you manage to fully enjoy and relax this evening and this night?
— Wel, no. We spent some time in the locker room, gathered, got on the bus and went to the airport.
— When you arrived in Moscow, you were met by fans at the airport. You were still singing chants with the fans back then. It seemed that you then completely relaxed.
— As I have already said, the nervous tension does not subside for some hours even after the end of the seventh match. But I think we drank a little champagne and somwhat relaxed. I was glad to see the familiar faces of the fans, I wanted to thank them for their incredible support. We have seen and heard them in all corners of our vast homeland. I had to do something, come up with something in the course of events, I couldn't just get in the car and leave without thanking them for their support.
— And I can't help but note your style. At the closing ceremony of the season, you looked like a Hollywood star. Does your spouse help you compose outfits, or you do it exclusively by yourself?
— You can't do without a spouse here. Karina is watching my appearance, although I was not born yesterday either. We sometimes have disagreements on this topic. But this is not the most important thing. I put on my glasses because my eyes hurt a little that day. I understood that there would be a lot of bright light, I wanted to keep my eyes open for a while and not be exposed to the flashes of reporters. But thanks for the compliment, if that's the case.
"I never had any thoughts of working in the NHL"
— You won the Gagarin Cup and were recognized as the best coach in the first season. What are your goals now?
— From this point of view, you are right — a lot has been achieved. But, believe me, there is still the same amount of work plus something else. Hockey does not stand still, such a great club as CSKA will not stand still either. Such a club should be at the forefront and always do something new, which is still unknown to the opponent. This is a very serious task and requires serious preparation. A lot of young guys have declared themselves this season, and in our team too, so there is a lot of work.
— If on the day of the appointment you were shown your photo with the cup in the locker room of Magnitogorsk, would you be pleasantly surprised?
— I wouldn't say anything. Although… I would say that the photo is beautiful, and then I would say: "Well, let's get to work." The goal is clear. It was always high.
— Do you set a goal to become a head coach at an NHL club one day?
— No, I don't.
— Have you ever had a desire to work in North America?
— No, I've never had such thoughts.
— You know how suddenly my coaching career started. Therefore, there were no such thoughts. Especially about the NHL.
— Maybe they have appeared now, after winning the Gagarin Cup?
— No, there are no such thoughts now. I have a contract for two more years, there is something to work on. I would like to continue the winning traditions of such a great club as CSKA.
— Did you find out from the Internet that you are being considered for the post of head coach of Detroit?
— Yes, I read a journalist's note where there were 4-5 surnames, including mine and Igor Nikolaevich Larionov. I read it and went on to work for training.
— If Steve Eiserman had called you, would you have hung up right away or could you have thought more?
"I'd pick up the phone and say, 'Glad to hear from you, Steve.' But then it's not a fact that he would have asked me exactly this question.
"Being a coach is 20-30-40-50 different directions. Being a player — 12-15 directions"
— You played under the guidance of great coaches: Scotty Bowman, Mike Babcock, Ken Hitchcock. What did you learn from them in coaching?
— I definitely didn't try to adopt something as a player. It's just not possible. Your head works differently when you're a hockey player. But I want to mention Viktor Vasilyevich Tikhonov and Scotty Bowman. I have spent the greatest number of hockey seasons with these coaches. I understand their philosophy, their requirements, their psychology and technical and tactical things that they tried to introduce into their teams.
— Are these technical and tactical things still relevant for modern hockey?
— Basic things will always be relevant. No one has come up with anything better than these basic things in hockey yet. But there are a lot of trends that are fixed and become basic, from which you can start. This is the progress of hockey.
— Are you following the NHL playoffs now, are you taking any things into account?
— I'm watching, because now there is a little more free time. It's interesting to watch the NHL playoffs, I follow our guys, I root for them. In terms of learning something, I won't say that I found the time to watch the games in their entirety. Only by watching the matches in their entirety you can learn something.
— Great players rarely become successful coaches. How do you think, why?
— Good question. I think the amount that falls on the coach is so huge that some players, having had a very intense and great career, are not always ready for such a volume of work, dedication and intensity. Maybe that's why it wasn't always possible to become a good coach after a good career. I say this with all responsibility and seriousness. In my first year as a coach, I experienced what coaching is like. Although I understand perfectly well that this is only the upper part of the iceberg.
— Alexey Kovalev told me that in training he looks no worse than his players, and they look at him as if he came from the moon. How is it going at CSKA?
— No, we certainly don't have that. I transfer all my gaming experience in slightly different ways, and our process is built differently.
— Did you "kill" a player in yourself to become a coach?
- No. Why would I kill a player in myself? It doesn't make any sense.
— After all, the coach's and the player's views are different things.
— I won't argue. I have a different understanding.
— Explain then.
— What happened to me when I was an active player is one page. What happened to me after I was appointed head coach of CSKA is another page. I tried to do everything to study it as thoroughly as the page with a gaming career. One does not interfere with the other in my understanding. And more than that: that gaming experience even helps me. Being a coach is 20-30-40-50 different directions. Being a player is 12-15 directions that you need to know well in order to play at the highest level.
— Have you ever regretted that you got involved in this gamble — coaching?
— I never even thought that this was a gamble and that I was involved in something. After all, this is not ballet, and I know something about hockey.
— Olympic gold in the role of a coach — can this be called an unclosed gestalt for you?
— Hockey is not an individual sport, but a team sport. For me personally, this is a great achievement, but it is forged by the very hard work of not one person, but the whole team. I don't have any moods that this is something urgent and necessary. I know that everything has its time. There was already one chance, but what happened happened. We continue to live, work, and give ourselves to our favorite sport.