Zakharov to lead Belarus
by Martin Merk|20 AUG 2019
Mikhail Zakharov led Yunost Minsk to three IIHF Continental Cups, most recently here in 2018 on home ice. Now he will also be behind the bench of the Belarusian national team.
photo: Alisa Keptyukha
After promotion to the top-level 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Switzerland and the contract with Alexander Sidorenko expired, the Belarusian Ice Hockey Association was looking for a new head coach and found it in Mikhail Zakharov.

The Coaching Council and the Executive Board of the Belarusian Ice Hockey Association met today in Minsk with the position of the men’s national team coach as one of the anxiously awaited agenda items. Zakharov was the unanimous choice.

His merits at domestic level are second to none. Since joining Yunost Minsk as a head coach in the late ‘90s he has led the club to eight Belarusian championships, six Belarusian Cup titles and won the IIHF Continental Cup three times, most recently in 2018. He will continue to coach the reigning champion that will also play in the Champions Hockey League.

At the international level he has been coaching the U18, U20 and men’s national team, the latter during the 2003/2004 and part of the 2004/2005 seasons as well as during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Later he was also head coach of the Ukrainian national team. He was also on the coaching staff as an assistant coach at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

Originally born in Ust-Kamenogorsk in what is today Kazakhstan, Zakharov spent most of his senior hockey career as a player during the Soviet era with Dynamo Minsk in Belarus playing in the top-two Soviet leagues. Later he played four years of minor-league hockey in the United States. Internationally he represented the Soviet Union in two U18 European Championships and in the 1981 IIHF World Junior Championship. Towards the end of his career he played three seasons for the Belarusian national team in the World Championship B-Pool and C-Pool.

“There’s really a lot of work. The 2021 World Championship will be held in Minsk, we talked a lot with the colleagues, today our hockey has stalled, there are no hockey players of the calibre of Kalyuzhny, Grabovski, Koltsov or the Kostitsyns,” said Zakharov, who confirmed to have agreed on a two-year contract. “But we will not look at this, we will work and move on. Nobody gives up, there are tasks and we will fulfil them together with the coaches and the federation. When we all become one unit, these tasks become possible.”

Yunost Minsk is his big pride, the hockey school that produced the most national team players. For the future he hopes to see more from other clubs with the growing number of teams and arenas in the country.

“Because only one (hockey) school works – Yunost. That’s all,” he replied to the journalists to explain why there are not so many world-class players from Belarus anymore. And still, there are big ambitions, big hopes in Zakharov. “In every game we will fight, not give up. Of course we want to become better. In 10 years there will be medals. In Minsk (2021) we will try to move up as high as possible.”

The 57-year-old will meet the team first time during the November international break with a Four Nations Tournament in Latvia. In December the national team will play a tournament in Hungary and in February in Slovakia.

The most important events for Zakharov’s squad follow later. Belarus returns to the top-level IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and aims at a good result one year before hosting the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk together with the Latvian capital of Riga.

At the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship held 8-24 May 2020 in Switzerland, Belarus is seeded in Group A in Lausanne with Canada, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia, Denmark and Great Britain.

The next big goal for Zakharov’s men will be to qualify for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing. Belarus will play the Final Olympic Qualification in Group D in Slovakia. The group will also include Austria and a winner from the pre-qualification. Tentative dates are 27-30 August 2020.