Many hockey fans might not realize this, but Mike Keenan is still very much an active professional coach. He’s just doing so in Russia.
If there was any question about his commitment to his second hockey home, consider this: TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that Keenan is in the process of gaining Russian citizenship, and may just help coach the country at the international level:
The native of Whitby, Ont., is in the process of finalizing his Russian citizenship, as is his long-time assistant, Mike Pelino. Russian officials have been encouraging Keenan do this for some time to show fans he is committed to the team, the KHL and the country. Keenan, who says he has learned enough of the Russian language to get by, is in the final year of his contract but doesn’t sound like he’s in any rush to get out. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Once his Russian citizenship has been approved, there is a good chance the highly decorated coach will return to international competition. If all goes as planned, Keenan could be on the bench, or at least a member of Team Russia’s staff, at future championships, including the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in 2016.
Neat stuff, right?
It’s difficult not to take “learning enough of the Russian language to get by” as “locking down a few phrases he can scream at KHL players,” but credit him for following his passion at 65.
Keenan (pictured on the left) is currently in a very successful run with KHL team Magnitogorsk.
Speaking of familiar faces behind KHL benches, it sounds like Sergei Zubov’s getting a big opportunity with SKA St. Petersburg:
There were plenty of rumors that Alexei Kovalev was headed to the KHL this summer. Now, we have official word that former Penguins’ skilled winger is headed to Atlant Mytishchi in Moscow. The newly signed deal will send Kovalev to his native Russia for the next two seasons and very likely could spell the end of his North American career. Some would say a year or two too late.
Kovalev was acquired by the Penguins midseason in hopes that he would inject some offense into a team that was replacing the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. In 20 games down the stretch, Kovalev only scored a pair of goals and five assists as he failed to meet short-term expectations in the Steel City. Atlant’s General Director talked about the move to bring Kovalev to Moscow (via Google Translate):
“We have long fought for Kovalev and we’re very glad that we could still come to terms with such a talented striker. We hope that Alex can reveal a wealth of potential in the Kontinental Hockey League, and thereby help to Atlant to fight for the highest places in the next championships.”
If this is truly the end of the NHL line for Kovalev, he’s had a great career in North America. Taking a brief look back, the insanely talented Russian has put up 428 goals and 596 assists in 1,302 regular season games. After bouncing between the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins a few times, he ended up in Montreal for parts of five seasons, Ottawa for parts of two, and finally back to Pittsburgh for his last 20 games. The 38-year-old was drafted 15th overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by the Rangers and broke into the league during the 1992-93 season. Over the course of his career, he scored 20+ goals in twelve separate seasons including a 44 goal, 95 point campaign in 2000-01. For a man known for his inconsistency, he consistently put up goals just about everywhere he went.
It was no secret that the Penguins weren’t interested in bringing Kovalev back for the 2011-12 season. He was a disappointment for the Ottawa Senators for the majority of his two years in town and continued the trend when he reached Pittsburgh. He’s been on the free agent market since July 1st but there hasn’t been much interest in North America—and if there was, they weren’t willing to spend the same amount of money that the KHL offering.
He’ll be remembered as one of the most skilled players over the course of his career. Hockey fans would be hard pressed to come up with too many players who had more pure talent than Kovalev. Hopefully he’ll be able to regain the fire with Atlant Mytishchi.