GRENOBLE, France – Mikhail Zakharov is likely the busiest coach on the international stage. After getting second place at the Continental Cup with Yunost Minsk, the 47-year-old talked to IIHF.com about his job with the Belarusian and the Ukrainian national teams.
Born in the Kazakh city of Ust-Kamenogorsk, Zakharov played for Dynamo Minsk in the Soviet league for eleven years before stints in the American minor leagues, Poland and Russia. He won bronze at the 1981 World U20 Championship with the Soviets, and he represented Belarus in two C-Pool World Championships.
He has been the head coach of the Belarusian top club Yunost Minsk since 2003 and led the club to four national championships and the 2007 Continental Cup title. Zakharov was also the head coach of the Belarusian U20 national team from 2003-2005 and an assistant coach of the men’s national team in 2004.
He has signed to coach the Belarusian national team through the 2010 Olympics. Belarus will play against Finland, Germany and Sweden in the preliminary round.
Before his appointment, Zakharov signed as the Ukrainian national team coach. Ukraine will play for promotion at the 2010 IIHF World Championship Division I Group A in Tilburg, Netherlands, against Austria, Japan, Lithuania, Netherlands and Serbia.
You finished the 2010 Continental Cup in second place. Did you expect more?
We haven’t performed very well. There were some mistakes by the club’s management. We didn’t expect that it would be so hard to play against Red Bull Salzburg.
You have an intense season coaching the Belarusian national team in Vancouver and the Ukrainian national team in the World Championship Division I. How is this year for you?
There’s a lot of work to do for sure. At the beginning I thought I would just be the Ukraine coach, but then I also had the opportunity to become the national team coach of Belarus.
Were you surprised to be offered the job as the Belarusian national team coach?
Yes, it was a surprise and of course it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I have already worked with 95 percent of the players. Many of the national team players come from the Yunost Minsk organization.
Andrei Kostitsyn and Mikhail Grabovsky are currently sidelined. Can they play at the Olympics?
With Kostitsyn it’s a serious situation after his knee surgery while Grabovsky started to skate but he still uses a cast. We think he will be able to play.
Did you find a replacement for Kostitsyn?
We will probably name the final roster on February 8.
How do you think you will do with the Belarusian team in Vancouver?
We will take the place for which we are ready. It will be the strongest tournament in hockey history and we will grow with it. There are many NHL players, also Germany which is in our group, has many NHL players.
How will your situation be in spring when Ukraine plays the World Championship Division I in April and Belarus the World Championship in Germany in May?
The Ukrainian federation really wants me to be their head coach in the World Championship Division I. That’s why we discussed the situation and they made sure that I wouldn’t refuse from my job as the coach of the Ukrainian national team. And I will not refuse from the Ukrainian national team. It’s also an advantage that some of the key players of the Ukrainian national team play with Yunost Minsk.
There were discussions about a second Belarusian team in the Russian KHL.
We intend to do this. We will do everything to have a second team in the KHL within two years. I think it will be based in Bobruisk. The new arena in Minsk with a capacity of 15,000 has opened. Dynamo Minsk had almost 9,000 spectators in their first game, but the team doesn’t play so well.
Would Yunost be a better team for the KHL?
Yes, sure. Yunost won four championships since 2003 and played in two Continental Cup finals. It’s a very successful team in Belarusian hockey.
Will you try to get Yunost in the KHL? And would you move to Bobruisk?
Yes, we will think about this. We have only two big arenas that are KHL-ready, the one in Bobruisk is also new and holds 8,000, it is not so far away from Minsk, maybe 120 kilometres, and the city has its own airport. On January 21st, the new president of the Belarus Ice Hockey Federation will be elected and we don’t know who it will be, so we have to wait, but I think the election will be a big step forward for Belarusian hockey.
What do you expect from the new president?
We should focus more on the development of youth hockey. There are new ice rinks, but we don’t have enough coaches for youth hockey.
People know less about the hockey situation in Ukraine. Some exhibition games have been cancelled recently. What is the situation right now?
It’s a bit difficult at the moment because of the political situation. There are elections soon in the country. After the elections we should take more time for hockey as things will calm down.