The Bench Bosses: Tarasov Division
Time to continue on with our look at the coming season’s KHL coaches! Last time out, we dealt with the Bobrov Division, and for this piece we stay in the West Conference to see who will be behind the benches of the Tarasov Division teams. Read on!
CSKA Moscow — Igor Nikitin: CSKA overtook SKA St. Petersburg down the stretch to win the 2016-17 regular season title, but a shocking second-round playoff exit at the hands of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl meant the end of the line for the highly-respected Dmitry Kvartalnov. In comes Nikitin, whose previous KHL head-coaching experience came back in 2009-10 with Avangard Omsk. That was, oddly, his first-ever coaching job, and it lasted less than a full season; since then he has been building up the resume with assistant-coaching posts in the KHL and with the Russian national program (he has helped out at four World Championships, including the most recent one, and at one World Juniors). Nikitin followed Kvartalnov from Sibir Novosibirsk to CSKA in 2014, and now is entrusted with the quest to return the old Red Army team to the heights of success it used to enjoy. Nikitin’s staff: Vladimir Chebaturkin (Ass’t), Dmitry Yachanov (Goalies), Dmitry Pirozhkov (Fitness).
Dynamo Moscow — Vladimir Vorobyov: after a couple of seasons as an assistant coach, the last two with Dynamo, the 44-year-old Vorobyov steps into his first KHL head coaching gig as a replacement for the departed Sergei Oreshkin. He also steps into a mess; Dynamo are heavily in debt, and their offices were raided by anti-corruption police last week (we will have much more on this situation in a post to come, possibly tomorrow). However, as far as the new coach will be concerned, the task is simple one: Dynamo have gone to the second playoff round but no further in each of the last three seasons, and Vorobyov will be looking to guide the team at least a bit closer to the Gagarin Cup glory days of 2012 and 2013. Vorobyov’s staff: Andrei Skopintsev (Ass’t), Alexander Boikov (Ass’t), Vitaly Yeremeyev (Goalies), Yevgeniya Khramova (Rehab), Ivan Skobrev (Fitness).
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl — Alexei Kudashov: Quiet competence has been Kudashov’s coaching style as he prepares to enter his third season in charge of Lokomotiv. 2017-18 will be the 45-year-old’s fifth KHL campaign as a head coach; prior to moving to Yaroslavl, he did good work despite dismal finances at now-defunct Atlant Moscow Oblast. Last season was a typically respectable one for Lokomotiv: fourth place in the West, and that stunning upset of CSKA in the second round that meant a fifth trip in nine seasons to the KHL Conference Finals. Lokomotiv are perhaps just a hair away from genuine contender status, and now we will find out of Kudashov is the man to get them to that level. Kudashov’s staff: Dmitry Yushkevich (Ass’t), Alexander Savchenov (Ass’t), Sergei Naumov (Goalies), Lars-Göran Ahlqvist (Fitness).
Severstal Cherepovets — Alexander Gulyavtsev: The 44-year-old arrived at Severstal in summer of 2016, after a four-year stint as a head coach in the second-tier professional VHL. Though his debut campaign in Cherepovets resulted in a fourth consecutive missing of the playoffs, Gulyavtsev was judged to have done well enough to get another shot. Obviously, making the playoffs is the goal, but there will be added pressure on the club in 2017-18; with the KHL’s contraction plans and criteria now official, little Severstal will definitely be considered one of the prime candidates for a drop the VHL. Gulyavtsev must get his team performing well enough to keep the fans coming in, and it will be tough task against some of the financial giants of the West Conference. Gulyavtsev’s staff: Albert Loginov (Ass’t), Pavel Torgayev (Ass’t), Andrei Kozyrev (Ass’t), Dmitry Khomutov (Goalies), Igor Zakharov (Fitness).
HK Sochi — Sergei Zubov: When last we saw Zubov, the former standout NHL defenceman, he was at SKA St. Petersburg in 2015-16, tasked with cleaning up after the disastrous though brief Andrei Nazarov era. That he did well enough, apart from whatever it was that happened with Ilya Kovalchuk in the playoffs that year, and now he has earned another head-coaching job. Zubov arrives on the Black Sea coast to replace Vyacheslav Butsayev, who resigned this past spring after Sochi missed the playoffs. Zubov is at the stage of his career where he is just building up a head-coaching style, so t will be interesting to see if he maintains Butsayev’s loose — though at times successful — approach to systems play, or tightens things up. Zubov’s staff: Konstantin Kurashev (Ass’t), Ivan Zanatta (Ass’t), Pavel Kostichkin (Ass’t), Valery Balabanov (Fitness).
Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod — Pēteris Skudra: This coming campaign will the fifth at Torpedo for Skudra, and longest current tenure with a single team in the KHL. The 44-year-old Latvian and former NHL netminder has certainly earned some job safety; Torpedo missed the playoffs the season before he arrived, but have not done so since, and have generally proved a handful for any and all opponents. However, only once under Skudra has Torpedo advanced past the first round in the post-season, so that will be a goal for the next season. Skudra is also, unfortunately, building himself a bit of a reputation with the KHL’s Disciplinary Board; while hardly in the Andrei Nazarov league for villainy, he has been ejected or suspended a number of times for clashes with referees (and at least once for fighting an opposing coach). However, his record at Torpedo speaks in his defence: this is a good coach, temper aside. Skudra’s staff: Artyom Chubarov (Ass’t), Igor Matushkin (Ass’t), Andrei Tsaryov (Goalies).
Vityaz Moscow Oblast — Valery Belov: I do believe that if I had had a vote for KHL Coach of the Year, it would have gone Belov’s way, after he took Vityaz to the post-season for the first time the team’s KHL history. A Vityaz head coach in the Russian second division way back in the early 2000s, he had long been on the staff at Ak Bars Kazan, including two seasons as top dog when Zinetula Bilyaletdinov was coaching the national team. Now 50 years old, Belov returned to Vityaz in 2016 to replace Oleg Orekhovsky (Ravil Yakubov, who been interim head coach, remained as an assistant), and the 2016-17 result — that long-awaited post-season trip — is now part of KHL lore. And so there was much rejoicing in Vityaz circles when Belov promptly signed a two-year extension. Can he pull off another miracle? It will be one of the intriguing questions of the coming season, especially as Vityaz, like Severstal, must worry a bit about their KHL future. Belov’s staff: Ravil Yakubov (Ass’t), Andrei Sapozhnikov (Ass’t), Vyacheslav Uvayev (Ass’t), Mikhail Shtalenkov (Goalies), Leonid Dmitrichenko (Fitness).
Oddly enough, Belov may not end up coaching Vityaz at all — among the proposals afloat for solving the Dynamo Moscow mess is a merger of the two clubs, with Belov replacing Vorobyov in charge of the new team. It’s unlikely, in my opinion, at least right now… but that whole situation will be the subject of the next post here, hopefully tomorrow. The next Division whose coaches we will examine, possibly as early as Thursday, will be the Kharlamov Division, as we switch over to the East Conference. Thank you for reading!