He’s only been on the job for a few days, but new Russian national team head coach Oleg Znarok is already talking a big game.
From RIA Novosti, per Around the Rings:
The new Russian national hockey team coach says fans “won’t be ashamed” of the style of play under his guidance, a thinly veiled dig at his predecessor who oversaw a humiliating quarterfinal elimination at the Sochi Olympics.
Latvian specialist Oleg Znarok was unveiled as the new coach this week after taking Dynamo Moscow to back-to-back Gagarin Cup titles in the KHL.
He replaced Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, who was fired after Russia’s 3-1 defeat to Finland in Sochi, slammed by President Vladimir Putin as “a serious disappointment.”
“I can say that no one will be ashamed of the Russian national team,” the 51-year-old said at a news conference at RIA Novosti. “The guys are going to fight to the end, I guarantee it. Even if the team loses, we need to lose well.”
Znarok, 51, has been the coach of KHL powerhouse HC Dynamo Moscow since 2010 and led the team to consecutive Gagarin Cup (KHL playoff championship) titles in 2011 and ’12. The former Latvian winger had a lengthy playing career in Europe prior to coaching, but did briefly play with AHL Maine during the 1991-92 campaign.
It’s worth noting that Znarok has a history with Alex Ovechkin, having coached the Washington captain at Dynamo during the NHL lockout.
Znarok will face some challenges in his new gig. He inherits a team that’s come under great fire over the last month, culminating with Bilyatendinov’s departure on Mar. 5. The team that finished fifth in Sochi was considered one of the greatest disappointments in Russian hockey history, and Bilyaletdinov’s coaching acumen came under fire in a piece from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, in which Pens center Evgeni Malkin was reportedly frustrated with many of the strategical and personnel decisions made in Sochi.
That hasn’t stopped Znarok from promising big things, though.
“We should win the World Championships,” Znarok said of the upcoming WHC in Belarus. “Other plans simply don’t exist.”
The Worlds run from May 9-23. Russia captured gold under Bilyaletdinov in ’12 but performed poorly at last year’s tournament, finishing sixth after an 8-3 blowout loss to the U.S. in the quarterfinals.