BEIJING/TALLINN – China and Estonia vying for promotion at the 2010 IIHF World Championship Division II tournament in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. Both boosted their staff with foreign coaches.
China hired former Belarusian national player Andrei Kovalev as its new head coach. He signed a contract through April 2010.
The 43-year-old has plenty of international experience as a player. Kovalev played in eight World Championships and two Olympics with Belarus. He also won U20 gold with the Soviets. He played for Dynamo Minsk and Dynamo Moscow in the Russian and Soviet league before a two-year stint in North America in the AHL and other minor leagues, and 13 years in Germany. He ended his playing career in 2007 with Yunost Minsk.
After retiring, he worked with Yunost before becoming the assistant coach of HK Vitebsk.
Kovalev will be assisted by Chinese coaches and he will also be the head coach of the Chinese team in the Asian League. The club is located in a new 8,000-seat arena in Shanghai and it’s the strongest club team in the country.
China joined the World Championship program in 1972 and its men’s team has been ranked between 26 and 32 in the last decade, while China’s women are currently in seventh place in the women’s ranking.
Estonia, which played in Division I for many years until getting relegated in 2008, have turned to Finland for its national team coaches. Ismo Lehkonen and Jukka Ropponen were hired for next season. They will begin their work at the end of the week at a national team camp in Tallinn.
Head coach Lehkonen, 47, was behind the bench of several Finnish clubs; most recently he was Glen Hanlon’ assistant at Jokerit Helsinki. Ropponen is the goalie coach of the Swiss team ZSC Lions Zurich, which won the 2008-2009 Champions Hockey League and will face the Chicago Blackhawks for the 2009 Victoria Cup on 29th September.
China and Estonia will play this year’s Division II event in Tallinn along with Romania, Iceland, Israel and New Zealand, April 10-17. Estonia finished second and China third at last season’s Division II event, both teams had domestic coaching staffs.