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Red Star aiming to burn brighter

By Murray Greig | China Daily | Updated: 2017-03-18 07:00

Keenan takes command of KHL squad

Construction by instruction ... with a little "religious" fervor thrown in for good measure.

Mike Keenan's trademark formula for building winners has made the 67-year-old Canadian one of the most successful coaches in the history of professional hockey - and now he's bringing it to China.

Keenan was announced as the new head coach of the Kontinental Hockey League's Beijing-based Kunlun Red Star on Thursday, replacing Vladimir Yurzinov, who resigned on March 2 for personal reasons.

Yurzinov, who helmed Red Star to a surprise playoff berth in its just-completed debut season, retains his membership on the team's advisory committee.

"It was very difficult for Mr Yurzinov to coach and manage the team to a playoff position in such a short time, but that outcome was the result of his great efforts, along with general manager Vladimir Kerchin," said Red Star chairman Zhao Xiaoyu.

"Mr Yurzinov created a strong foundation for the team, and our fans will always remember his contribution to Chinese hockey."

In Keenan, Red Star is getting a bona fide coaching legend, recognized worldwide as one of the game's most innovative and intense instructors.

He ranks fifth on the National Hockey League's all-time list for victories (672) and is the only bench boss to win both the NHL's Stanley Cup (New York Rangers, 1994) and the KHL's Gagarin Cup (Metallurg Magnitogorsk, 2014). He also captured two Canada Cup global championships (1987, 1991), coaching Wayne Gretzky.

Between 1987 and 2009, Keenan served as head coach and/or GM with eight NHL franchises, earning a reputation as a master tactician and peerless motivator while schooling his charges in tough, high-octane hockey.

"I'm very excited to have the opportunity to contribute to building Chinese hockey at every level, from the grassroots to the national team," Keenan said when he accepted an invitation to join Red Star's advisory committee last month.

"In Canada, hockey is like our national religion because it emphasizes many of the things we hold dear, like teamwork, sacrifice and creativity - and I think those same qualities are cherished in China.

"From what I've seen, Chinese fans are very passionate about their sports, and that passion can be channeled to hockey if we do a good job of selling the speed and beauty of the game. Hockey is its own best advertisement.

"One of our goals is just to get fans to sample it - probably for the first time. Once this country is exposed to the passion and excitement of the game, I think China will fall in love with hockey."

Zhao said Keenan's hiring heralds the dawn of a new era in Chinese sport.

"On the road to pursuing 'higher, stronger, faster,' there is nothing called 'the best' - only 'better,'" said the chairman.

"With Mike joining us, Kunlun Red Star is entering new territory. He will bring a brand new Canadian training system, which will be integrated with our current Russian and Finnish systems to build a much stronger team.

"We have set two goals with Mike for next season. The first is to ensure at least five Chinese players are on the roster and earning regular playing time. To that end, Red Star will host offseason tryout camps in Beijing, Toronto and Boston to select the best Chinese players.

"Our second goal is to continue the momentum the team achieved in our first year and to advance to at least the second round of the Gagarin Cup playoffs."

Deadlock in US women's wage dispute

America's top female hockey stars let a deadline to decide on whether they'll boycott the world championship pass on Thursday without any indication they've changed their minds in a standoff with USA Hockey over wages.

"We are focused on the issue of equitable support and stand by our position," the players said in a statement released shortly after the 5 pm deadline. "We continue to be grateful for the encouragement and loyalty of our fans."

The powerhouse US women's program has been plunged into chaos less than a week until the scheduled start of training camp and just over two weeks from defending its world title on home ice in Plymouth, Michigan.

Coach Ken Klee was replaced by Robb Stauber earlier this month, and now it's unclear how USA Hockey will fill its roster for a tournament it has won six of the past eight times.

The championship was expected to serve as a measuring stick for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

It was not immediately clear what USA Hockey's next step will be ahead of the International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Hockey Championship, which begins on March 31. USA Hockey said it is proceeding according to plan.

"The organization's clear objective is to continue to work toward ensuring the players that have been selected for the team are those that represent the United States in the world championship," USA Hockey spokesman Dave Fischer said.

Players are seeking more compensation and a four-year deal. The deadline came one day after the team announced it would boycott the tournament, citing a lack of progress in labor talks.

Stars such as Hilary Knight, Amanda Kessel, captain Meghan Duggan and twins Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando are leading the charge to skip the tournament.

Knight thinks other players who might be asked to play will turn down the offer.

"We're unanimously united as a player pool," Knight said Wednesday. "Good luck getting a suitable No 1 competition to represent our country on a world stage. I kind of dare them. It's tough."

Associated Press

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