Do what I did!
by Andy Potts|09 FEB 2022
Jere Lehtinen won a silver medal with Finland at the Turin 2006 Olympics.
photo: Jukka Rautio / Europhoto
Do great players make great coaches? Can a national hero on the ice perform as strongly as a GM off it? It’s one of the oldest debates in sports, and the Beijing Games will provide more evidence for all points of view. Among the bench coaches and GMs of the 12 teams contesting the men’s tournament, there are 10 who won Olympic medals as players. Between them, they took home 20 prizes from careers spanning 30 years of action in the five rings. Here’s a look at the men who can legitimately tell the class of 2022: “Do it like I did.”

Four medals
Jere Lehtinen, Finland. GM 2022. Silver 2006, bronze 1994, 1998, 2010.

Finland’s five-time Olympian Jere Lehtinen is the most decorated individual on the list. A rock-solid defensive forward, the 48-year-old IIHF Hall of Famer piled up the trophies. In addition to his impressive Olympic record, he also helped Finland win its first World Championship in 1995 and added a Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999, the year in which he claimed the second of his three Selke Trophies. After hanging up his skates in 2010 a few months after winning bronze in his final Olympic appearance in Vancouver, Lehtinen spent three seasons scouting for the Leijonat before taking on the GM role ahead of the 2015 World Championship. 

Three medals
Alexei Zhamnov, ROC. Head coach 2022 . Gold 1992, silver 1998, bronze 2002.

Zhamnov was part of the last generation of players to emerge from the Soviet Union before its collapse, and his first Olympics came in 1992 when the Red Machine played as the Unified Team and won gold. Subsequently, he was part of the Russian roster that lost to the Czechs in the 1998 final in Nagano and added bronze to his collection in 2002. He was never one of the star players on those rosters but personified the kind of grit and team spirit needed to forge a champion team. With relatively little experience as a head coach, Zhamnov’s ability to unite his roster into an effective team in Beijing will be tested.

Two medals
Alexei Kovalyov, China. Assistant coach 2022. Gold 1992, bronze 2002.

China’s Olympic debut will be guided by two men with previous experience of the Games. Head coach Ivano Zanatta played for Italy at the 1992 tournament and his assistant, Alexei Kovalyov, helped the Unified Team win it all. As a player, Kovalyov was noted for his dazzling puck handling, skills that helped him win a Stanley Cup with the Rangers in 1994 – one of the first Russian players to achieve that honour. He returned to the Olympics in 2002, winning a bronze with Russia and went back again in 2006. Since 2018, he’s been part of the Kunlun Red Star coaching set-up – including a full season as head coach in 2020/21 – and the Togliatti native is back at the Games at the age of 48 in an unexpected capacity as China’s assistant coach.

Sergei Fyodorov, ROC. Asst coach 2022. Silver 1998, bronze 2002
Sergei Gonchar, ROC. Asst coach 2022. Silver 1998, bronze 2002

Zhamnov isn’t the only part of the ROC coaching staff with Olympic hardware. Two of his assistants, Sergei Fyodorov and Sergei Gonchar missed the 1992 Games but collected medals in Nagano and Salt Lake. 

Fyodorov might have been part of the 1992 team had he not defected two years earlier. Instead he had to wait until the fall of the Soviet Union and the agreement to allow NHLers to play at the Games. Even when he left his homeland, Fyodorov was recognised as one of the most talented players in the game and his subsequent career proved that point. Three Stanley Cups, three World Championships (the first in 1990 with the USSR) and a raft of individual awards all point to one of the greats of the game. Off the ice, though, he is in his first season as a coach with CSKA Moscow in the KHL.

Five years his junior, Gonchar was a team-mate of Fyodorov on both Olympic medal-winning line-ups. His journey to North America was rather smoother: by the time the Capitals drafted the defenceman in 1992, the political winds were blowing very differently and two years later he was called up to the NHL. He would go on to play 1,301 games there, winning the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009 and earning four Olympic call-ups in total. He returned to the Penguins as a development coach in time for two further Stanley Cup successes and spent three seasons as an assistant coach there. He joined the ROC coaching staff in December at the Channel 1 Cup.

Ilya Kovalchuk, ROC. GM 2022. Gold 2018, bronze 2002
The most recent Olympic medallist on this list, Ilya Kovalchuk won the MVP award for his efforts in his country’s triumph in 2018. That was the first time a Russian team had won gold since 1992 and the dramatic overtime triumph in the final had echoes of the 2008 World Championship when Kovalchuk again played a key role in ending a long Russian drought. After PyeongChang, Kovi returned to the NHL for two more seasons but the Stanley Cup continued to elude him. Last season he joined Avangard in December and helped Bob Hartley’s team to its first Gagarin Cup. His role as GM for Team ROC is his first off-ice position as the 38-year-old looks towards his future.

Martin Straka, Czechia. Assistant coach 2022. Gold 1998, bronze 2006.
Jaroslav Spacek, Czechia. Assistant coach 2022. Gold 1998, bronze 2006

It’s 24 years since the Czechs stunned the NHL-stacked rosters from North America to win the first ever ‘best-on-best’ Olympics. Not surprisingly, then, the players from that generation are moving into coaching and two of that golden roster are here in Beijing as assistants to Filip Pesan.

Defenceman Spacek, now 48, was playing in Sweden at the time of the Nagano Games but following his performances there he got the call from the Panthers and began a 13-year NHL career. He’s been part of the Czech coaching set-up since 2014 and went to PyeongChang with the team.

Forward Straka, a year older than Spacek, was already in the NHL when he went to Nagano. He went on to establish himself as a legend in Pittsburgh, where he played 10 seasons in total. Towards the end of his playing career he returned to his native Plzen, where he became owner of his hometown team and combined the roles of playing and GM until he hung up his skates in 2014. Spacek played the last games of his career on the Plzen team and then coached at the club from 2012. Straka joined the national team coaching staff last season.

One medal
Scott Young, USA. Assistant coach 2022. Silver 2002.

Of all the players on this list, Young was the first to get to an Olympics. He got the call for Team USA in 1988, the first of his three trips to the Games. After his return from Calgary, he made his NHL debut with the Hartford Whalers, starting a 17-year career in the league that yielded two Stanley Cups. But his commitment to the national team program stood out, with the right winger also on the golden 1996 World Cup of Hockey roster before his third and final trip to the Games brought him a silver medal in Salt Lake City.

Petr Nedved, CZE. GM 2022. Silver 1994.
Petr Nedved is the only man on this list to represent two different nations at the Olympics. Czech born, he travelled to a Pee-Wee tournament in Canada as a 17-year-old and used the chance to claim refugee status. A breath-taking offensive talent on his day, he could be a frustrating figure, but he found himself called into the Canadian Olympic roster in 1994, where he scored five goals in eight games on the way to a silver medal. By 1996, though, he was back in Czech colours at the World Cup of Hockey and, at the end of his career, he went to the Sochi Olympics on the Czech roster at the age of 42. Nedved has served as GM for Team Czechia since the 2018/19 season.