After coaching eight NHL teams and Russia's Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Mike Keenan is no stranger to success on the ice. But the hockey stalwart may be facing his toughest task yet – as the new coach of Kunlun Red Star, the only Chinese side in the Russia-based KHL.
With Beijing preparing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, Keenan has also taken on a role as adviser to the Chinese national team.
"It's going to work in a progression," Keenan told CGTN in an interview. "Yes, it's going to be a challenge. But I am a member of the KHL, I was a coach there, and I had some success in winning the championship. At the same time, I am familiar with how to build a program from experiences in hockey in various levels, including the NHL."
"The way to work here is that you have to identify a certain number of people, and the building process is a little bit of a puzzle. As you move forward to the Olympics, those requirements change," he said.
The Canadian led the NHL's New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup in 1994. He has coached three years in the KHL, guiding Metallurg Magnitogorsk to the Gagarin Cup in 2014. But China isn't known for hockey and a new setup and culture need to be established around the sport here.
Keenan explained, "I'm on the advisory committee of the Olympic program, advising the government of China how to create the grassroots, how to grow the game, at the same time how to prepare an Olympic team. I've got two hats on from time to time, one with the Olympic program and the national development of hockey in China, and then of course the coach in the KHL, the Red Star team. It's all interesting and fun."
One option for him is to identify foreign players who qualify to play for China through ancestral links or residency. For this reason, he plans to hold tryouts abroad.
"We will have to find players throughout the world, identify probably 25 guys for the men's team, also applicable for the women's team," Keenan said. "This summer, we will have our first preview of Chinese players around the world come to Toronto, an Olympic preview. We will have many of them."