Mike Keenan named head coach of KHL's Chinese franchise

Puck Daddy
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY GABRIELLE TETRAULT-FARBER <br>A September 11, 2015 photo shows Metallurg Magnitogorsk ice hockey team coach, Canadian Mike Keenan, standing during a Kontinental Hockey League’s (KHL) match against CSKA in Moscow. Keenan, nicknamed “Iron Mike” for his iron-fisted coaching style and temper tantrums, is the only coach to have won trophies in both the National Hockey League (NHL, North America) and KHL, the world’s top two leagues. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER NEMENOV (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY GABRIELLE TETRAULT-FARBER
A September 11, 2015 photo shows Metallurg Magnitogorsk ice hockey team coach, Canadian Mike Keenan, standing during a Kontinental Hockey League’s (KHL) match against CSKA in Moscow. Keenan, nicknamed “Iron Mike” for his iron-fisted coaching style and temper tantrums, is the only coach to have won trophies in both the National Hockey League (NHL, North America) and KHL, the world’s top two leagues. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER NEMENOV (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Mike Keenan is back in coaching 17 months after being fired by the KHL’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

“Iron” Mike will be taking his talents to China on a one-year deal and setting up behind the bench of the KHL’s Kunlun Red Star, who will be entering their second season as a franchise.

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“In Canada, ice hockey is its religion. Right now, China has rapidly growth in economy and political influence, and it has already demonstrated its ability of becoming World No.1. I hope I could make some efforts for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in 5 years’ time, and doing my bit for the club,” said Keenan in a statement.

Kunlun was knocked out of the Gagarin Cup playoffs in the first round by Keenan’s old club in five games. After the series, head coach Vladimir Jurzinov Jr. resigned, opening the door for the only coach who has won both the Stanley Cup and Gagarin Cup.

When we spoke with Keenan last April, he was hopeful he would coach again. He worked as an advisor for Metallurg until his contract expired last spring, and then he joined Kunlun’s International Advisory Board last month. He said he believes the KHL is the second-best hockey league in the world.

With the Beijing Olympics five years away, China is doing what it can to bolster its hockey program. One of Keenan’s two tasks, aside from getting Kunlun to the second round of the Gagarin Cup playoffs, is to further develop Chinese players by ensuring “at least five Chinese players would be playing in the games, and they will play with sufficient time. For this purpose, KRS will host draft camps in Beijing, Toronto and Boston to select outstanding Chinese hockey players globally.”

Could this lead to him taking over the national team come 2022? We’ll see.

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Who would have thought 30 years ago that Mike Keenan would end up coaching in a Russian league? But since he joined the KHL in 2013, he’s done his best to fit in over there, from doing commercials to singing karaoke with his players. The Kunlun players can probably expect that from their new coach.

“I tried to interface with the culture,” he said last April. “I wanted the players to feel that I was attempting to understand their culture. It wasn’t their responsibility to understand mine. Although a few of them had played in North America, I still wanted to at least establish that aspect of my working conditions with them.”

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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