KRAKOW, Poland Ė The Polish Ice Hockey Association (PZHL) announced on Friday that Igor Zakharkin and Vyacheslav Bykov signed two-year contracts to coach the Polish national team.
Zakharkin, who will become head coach of the Polish national team, already came to Poland two weeks ago and led the team in two exhibition games in France, which the Poles won 3-1 and 5-3 respectively against the French national team.
On Thursday evening the associationís President, Piotr Halasik, signed two-year contracts including an option until 2018 with the new duo behind the Polish bench. They follow after Wiktor Pysz, who coached the team from 1999 to 2004 and from 2009 until 2012.
The Poles want to bring hockey to another level and hope to earn promotion to the second tier (IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A) next season while aiming to make the national team Olympic-ready for PyeongChang 2018 with the help of foreign coaches.
Itís not the first time Poland relies on Russian coaching. The era of Anatoli Yegorov (1970-1975) was one of the most successful ones for Polish ice hockey. Under him Poland reached fifth place in the top pool three times in a row. Other Russian coaches that followed in the post-socialist era like Vladimir Safonov and Andrei Sidorenko, however, didnít enjoy similar success.
At the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B on home ice in Krynica the Poles missed promotion after losing the deciding game to Korea, and are currently in 23rd position in the IIHF World Ranking.
Bykov and Zakharkin will come in with raised expectations thanks to their storied CVs. After a long and successful playing career in Russia and Switzerland including two Olympic golds and five world titles, Bykov turned to coaching in the early 2000s. He worked together with Zakharkin as his assistant between 2004 and 2011, first at CSKA Moscow, later for Salavat Yulayev Ufa and the Russian national team. The tandem of Bykov/Zakharkin coached Russia in five World Championships, including back-to-back golds in 2008 and 2009.
After one year out of business, the duo is back, this time with reverse roles. Zakharkin signed as head coach for the Polish national team and Bykov agreed to assist his friend in the rule of a consultant. Bykov has also become a supervisory board member of his long-time club CSKA Moscow.
The first challenge will come in two months with the Olympic Pre-Qualification where Poland faces Ukraine, Estonia and Spain in Group H in Kyiv, Ukraine, 8-11 November. The winner of the group will advance to the Final Olympic Qualification played in February 2013.
In spring Poland will again travel to neighbouring country Ukraine, this time to Donetsk for the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B, 15-21 April 2013. Ukraine, Netherlands, Romania, Lithuania and Estonia will be the opponents in the contest for promotion to Division I Group A.