King of Russia: A Year in the Russian Super League
McClelland & Stewart, 2007 - Sports & Recreation - 250 pages
A revealing look inside the Russian Super League by its first Canadian coach.
Until now no Canadian had penetrated the coaching ranks of Russian hockey, but the year after the NHL lockout, Dave King became head coach of the Metallurg Magnitogorsk. From the beginning, King, Canada’s long-time national coach and former coach of both the Flames and Blue Jackets, realized he was in for an adventure. His first meeting with team officials in a Vienna hotel lobby included six fast-talking Russians and the “bag-man” — assistant general manager Oleg Kuprianov, who always carried a little black bag full of U.S. one hundred dollar bills.
The mission seemed simple enough: keep the old Soviet style combination play on offence, but improve the team’s defensive play — and win a Russian Super League Championship. Yet, as King’s diary of his time in Russia reveals, coaching an elite Russian team is anything but simple.King of Russiadetails the world of Russian hockey from the inside, intimately acquainting us with the lives of key players, owners, managers, and fans, while granting us a unique perspective on life in an industrial town in the new Russia. And introducing us to Evgeni Malkin, Magnitogorsk’s star and the NHL’s newest phenomenon.
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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - mwade - LibraryThing
Diary like entries covering King's season as the first Canadian coach in the Super League as head coach of Magnitogorsk in Malkin's final season there. Very good balance between covering the life ... Read full review
King of Russia: A Year in the Russian Super League
As a Toronto Maple Leafs fan for the last couple of decades I have been witness to the large number of highly skilled Russian players who’ve crossed the pond for the big bucks and glory of the NHL. I fell for the flashy Alexander Mogilny and his no-look lightning-fast wrist shots, but I absolutely adored Dimitry Yushkevich, the gritty ‘Russian Tank,’ who blocked shots with abandon and gave his all in defense of his team. Growing up I think many Canadians wondered what life was like behind the ‘Iron Curtain,’ and watching Red Army teams play Montreal or the Leafs was thrilling – as east met west in a clash of hockey superpowers. This highly-readable book describes life in Russia and the state of business and sport in the ‘Russian Super League’ (since dissolved and reborn in fall 2008 as the Continental Hockey League or KHL).
In “King of Russia,” Dave King, a former Canadian National team and NHL head coach, reveals his biases and apprehensions, and meets them head on as he dives into Russian life. After attending the first pre-season practices of his new team, Metallurg Magnitigorsk, King wonders if all his players will lack commitment after they show up to practice at the last minute and quickly leave when it’s over. But he observes that, as the team edges close to the regular season, they step up the pace and follow a training regimen that is far more rigorous than the North American version. King describes how visiting Canadian coaches are observing and learning from the Russian routine—ignoring the negatives such as the ruthless streaming that squeezes an elite corps of players and precludes large numbers playing for (Canadian concept?) the “love of the game”— and taking away the lesson that disciplined repetitive training results in the dazzling puck control that is typical of Slavic hockey players. The reader might observe also that the hockey world is a microcosm of the larger world, and that Russian society is still split into two: a rarified sphere for a tiny elite and the regular world of the average Russian.
Dave goes into lots of detail about the machinations of the hockey world and where it intersects with politics, and the life of regular people, as he details a long season of practices, games and tournaments in cities near and far (Spengler Cup, Olympics, World Junior Championships). Life is not easy in Russia, and neither is it easy for Russian hockey players. With humor, Dave describes the grind of traveling in a country with nine time zones, the baggy-pants hip-hop style of a young star, and how the players drive to the rink in BMWs but sleep together in the ‘baza’—a dormitory compulsory for players’ pre-game isolation from their families. There is a hangover from the Soviet days that permeates the business and social side of the game; even star players first priorities are to the team, the sponsor, the community, and in the case here, to the workers in the MMK steel factory near the edge of Western Siberia.
As the story progresses we are treated to the full intimate range of characters and scenes of a Russian sport operated in a quasi-mob style. There is the nutty overly-zealous trainer frightening the players with needles and pills, the ‘bag man’ who supports negotiations with reams of American bills, the surprising number of teams who haven’t paid their players in months. The extremes are exemplified in the travails of superstar Evgeni Malkin who plays his heart out for Metallurg, and then opts to drop the team, defection-style, and flee from Finland to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Of course, Malkin’s choice reflects the dynamics facing all hockey players. Do I play for money or love of the game? In 2005–2006, the top four teams in the Super League have Canadian minor league goalies who have given up their NHL dreams and have chosen the big bucks thrown at them by Russian clubs. During the season, King leans on a couple of veteran Russian players fluent in English and the North American game