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Former Oilers coach opens up about life in KHL and the major differences from North America

7 novembre 2019
Former NHL player and coach of the Edmonton Oilers during their 2005-2006 run to the Stanley Cup Final, Craig MacTavish, opened up with TSN about his recent endeavor into the KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) as head coach of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.

MacTavish accepted the position as headcoach of the Russian club on May 16th, 2019. After just 8 games, he was terminated on September 24th.



On Thursday, TSN released an article in which MacTavish spoke of his time with the team, and his experiences while abroad. He referred to his acceptance of the position as “fearfully optimistic.” It seems as though he sensed his time there might be limited.

The former Oiler spoke highly of the players and their work ethic, while also acknowledging the difference in lifestyle from North America.

“The players, young and old, were a pleasure to work with. They were hard working, dedicated and would do anything you asked, living by the old ‘Animal House’ adage – thank you, sir, may I have another? There were no issues whatsoever regarding work ethic and passion. That was a surprise. The players very much have an old- school North American mentality of respecting authority. They’re mostly intimidated by authority figures and uncomfortable with communication with the coach,” he told TSN.

“It took longer to develop trust with the players than I expected. However, over time I came to enjoy them and respect their perspective on the game.”

He had high regard for his translator and former teammate in Edmonton, Denis Grebeshkov.

“He played for us in Edmonton with the Oilers and had the responsibility of acting as my translator. He’s very good and a sharp guy. The import players used to say that the Russian translation of the drills were far more informative than the original version I provided. Of that I have no doubt. Denis was a huge help to me and important to the Lokomotiv hockey team.”

In regards to the KHL facilities, staffing and policies he encountered during his eight games with the club, MacTavish stated that he expected things to be of lesser quality, but was surprisingly wrong.

“The KHL was very well run with a high level of professionalism,” he mentioned in his statement.

“The Yaroslavl facility is world-class and NHL-class. The fitness, medical, sport science and support staff are NHL quality. I was expecting dilapidated facilities and unprofessional support staff, but was instead blown away with the level of funding and staffing for the team and at the practice facility,” he noted in his recollection of his time there.

The former NHLer was put off a bit by the style of play in the KHL, telling TSN that he anticipated play to be a “skilled, puck possessing, passing game.” He shared a fair amount of interesting detail regarding game play in the league.

“I imagined Russian hockey was going to be the skilled, puck possession, passing game that we saw when Anatoli Tarasov was coaching Central Red Army and the Russian national teams from the 1940s all the way into the 1970s.

Not quite.

It took me a while to understand the KHL game. It is a frenetic, high-energy game that seldom sees more than two passes completed in succession. Passing, to me, has always been the most graceful, entertaining form of the game. Glenn Anderson would constantly say, ‘Can’t pass, can’t play,’ and Edmonton saw the greatest passer in history of the game, so I have always viewed passing ability as essential to success.”

MacTavish noted that the ideas and views of how the puck is controlled, especially by defensemen, is substantially different from what we see in North America at the professional level.

“On 95 % of the KHL teams, when the defencemen get the puck – with any time – the forwards take off for a stretch pass and chip to forecheck. This tactic is executed with the intensity of a fire drill. All the defencemen would see was the sight of diminishing players fading through the neutral zone. I thought it was a crazy way to play and still do, but at least I understand the rationale behind it now.

Offensively, they’re expecting and managing the turnover.”

The longtime Oilers coach also noted that “KHL logic holds that it’s better to turn the puck over just outside the opposition’s blueline than inside yours.”

Though his experience with the league was brief, MacTavish got to experience a different world of hockey from what we have in North America, while also realizing some aspects aren’t that far from home. He noted that “there is a huge NHL influence on all aspects of game presentation and operations.”

The NHL legend best surmised his time with the KHL as noted in this quote;

“The hockey is entertaining and fast. Players have good puck skills but the playmaking just isn’t near the NHL level.”
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FEBRUARY 16, 2020
TOP 20 G A PTS
PATRIC HORNQVIST
3 1 4
SEBASTIAN AHO
1 1 2
SIDNEY CROSBY
1 1 2
ANDREW AGOZZINO
- 2 2
JACCOB SLAVIN
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COMPLETE LIST  
NHL LEADERS
POINTS GP PTS
LEON DRAISAITL
58 92
DAVID PASTRNAK
59 82
CONNOR MCDAVID
55 81
NATHAN MACKINNON
57 80
ARTEMI PANARIN
56 77
BRAD MARCHAND
59 74
JACK EICHEL
57 73
NIKITA KUCHEROV
57 72
PATRICK KANE
58 72
AUSTON MATTHEWS
59 71
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GOALS GP G
DAVID PASTRNAK
59 42
AUSTON MATTHEWS
59 42
ALEXANDER OVECHKIN
57 40
LEON DRAISAITL
58 33
JACK EICHEL
57 32
COMPLETE STANDINGS  
ASSISTS GP A
LEON DRAISAITL
58 59
JOHN CARLSON
58 54
CONNOR MCDAVID
55 51
BRAD MARCHAND
59 51
JONATHAN HUBERDEAU
58 49
COMPLETE STANDINGS  
DEFENSEMEN GP PTS
JOHN CARLSON
58 69
ROMAN JOSI
57 57
VICTOR HEDMAN
57 49
ALEX PIETRANGELO
58 46
QUINN HUGHES
57 44
COMPLETE STANDINGS  
ROOKIES GP PTS
QUINN HUGHES
57 44
CALE MAKAR
49 42
NICK SUZUKI
61 38
VICTOR OLOFSSON
43 37
DOMINIK KUBALIK
56 35
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WINS GP W
ANDREI VASILEVSKIY
44 32
JORDAN BINNINGTON
41 24
FREDERIK ANDERSEN
43 24
CONNOR HELLEBUYCK
48 24
CAREY PRICE
50 24
COMPLETE STANDINGS  
SHUTOUTS GP SO
ELVIS MERZLIKINS
27 5
MARC-ANDRE FLEURY
42 4
CONNOR HELLEBUYCK
48 4
JAMES REIMER
23 3
JAROSLAV HALAK
26 3
COMPLETE STANDINGS  

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