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Aug. 3—In the summer of 2019, Brian Idalski took a job coaching the Kunlun Red Star Vanke Rays, a Chinese-based women's hockey team in the top Russian league.
In Year 1, the former UND coach made history. The Vanke Rays won the league championship, becoming the first non-Russian team to pull off the feat.
In Year 2, the Vanke Rays were even better. They rolled to the league finals on a 17-game winning streak before the championship series was postponed until September due to COVID-19.
That success apparently caught the eye of the national program.
The State Administration of Sports has named Idalski the head coach of the Chinese Olympic women's hockey team for the 2022 Beijing Games.
Idalski is expected to have Max Markowitz on his Olympic staff. Markowitz, who got his start as a video coach with the UND women's program, is Idalski's assistant with the Vanke Rays.
The Chinese are currently No. 19 in the International Ice Hockey Federation's world rankings. They receive an automatic entry into the Olympics as the host country.
Six other countries have already qualified based on their world ranking: defending champion United States, Canada, Finland, Russia, Switzerland and Japan. Three more teams will join the field in Beijing.
The Olympics are scheduled for Feb. 4-20 in the Beijing National Indoor Stadium and Wukesong Arena. Both were used for the 2008 Summer Olympics, too.
This will be Idalski's first time coaching at the Olympic Games. Markowitz served as a video coach for the Finnish Olympic Team in 2014.
Idalski will continue coaching the Vanke Rays, too. They'll be based in the Moscow suburb of Mytishchi, Russia, for the 2021-22 season because of COVID-19 travel restrictions that require lengthy quarantines when entering China.
The season will begin with a best-of-three championships series that was postponed from the spring. The Vanke Rays will take on Ufa, Russia-based Agidel in the final.
Idalski will have several of his former UND players on his side, including Finnish stars and Olympic bronze medalists Michelle Karvinen and Susanna Tapani. He also will have Anna Kilponen, Abby Thiessen and Ryleigh Houston. After the UND program was cut, Kilponen finished her college career at Quinnipiac, while Thiessen finished at St. Cloud State and Houston at Minnesota Duluth. Former UND defenseman Samantha Hanson played for the Vanke Rays last season but won't be there for the championship series.
After the championships series, the league will promptly go into next season.
Leading into the Olympics, the Vanke Rays will feature only Chinese National Team players.
Idalski, who grew up in the Detroit area, was hired as the second UND women's hockey coach in 2007. He coached the Fighting Hawks for a decade, taking them to their first two NCAA tournaments. UND came within a goal of the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four, losing to eventual national champion and 41-0-0 Minnesota in triple overtime in the national quarterfinals.
Idalski recruited 10 Olympians to UND, including 2018 gold medalists and two-time silver medalists Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux, Karvinen (2010, 2018 bronze), Tapani (2018 bronze), Kilponen, Emma Nuutinen (2018 bronze), Vilma Taskanen, Tanja Eisenschmid, Susanne Fellner and Johanna Fallman.
After the program was cut in 2017, Idalski spent one year in Grand Forks and one year with Culver Academy in Indiana before taking the job with Kunlun Red Star.