Karri Kivi: Traktor is in heart of Chelyabinsk fans, and I hope it will stay the same
Former Traktor head coach on his work with Traktor and team’s fans.
What are your impressions from working in Traktor?
Everyone knows I like everything about Chelyabinsk, the people here, hockey, the atmosphere. I have had a dream – I wanted to get in the playoffs with Traktor to feel how playoffs are like here. Unfortunately it did not happen, and I am upset because I believed I would be able to make this team a winning one. But that’s life – if you don’t win, you pay the price.
What exactly went wrong, in your opinion?
I would not want to disclose it.Of course I analyzed what was going on, but could not explain it even to myself. Every day I wrote everything down, this is my analysis, so I don’t want to make that open.
I was unable to build a winning team; that is the reason why I was asked to leave. Whether it is Finland or Russia, head coach’s job is to build a winning team, whatever the methods are.
What failed aspects are you responsible for and what are not?
Head coach is the guy who is responsible for the results of the team and where it is in the league rankings. That’s right! It is my responsibility.
But it’s the players who go out there every night, not the head coach.
Yes, but it is all about the coach anyway. Sometimes one can get the best out of a team, sometimes one can’t. If I could not make Traktor play like I wanted the team to, this is my fault.
I think I didn’t manage to get through the team. I know how players like Glinkin and Chistov can play, so I tried to mix my ideas and their styles up. Obviously, I am not satisfied with our performance. If a D-man makes a bad pass in the beginning of the attack, it is my responsibility to make him avoid these mistakes in the future. If it happens again and again, this is head coach’s fault.
Some say Michael Garnett’s injury derailed the team in the beginning of the season…
There is no need to find reasons or excuses. In my previous interview I told there could be no excuses, and it still stands. I can’t explain myself what exactly has happened and why.
Is this the first time you leave a team in the middle of the season?
Yes. Once I left a team one week before the season began, but this was another matter – that team had 80 players, including 12 goalies (smiles).
Your personal opinion on KHL and the level of the league?
League level is very high – there are no weak teams here, and it’s a great place for any coach to work. 13 or 14 games a month is a tough schedule, so there is always time to not only coach, but to develop the team.
Is it really possible to develop the team in such a tough schedule?
Absolutely! This is what I think – when I began working in July, I had six weeks to prepare the team for the regular season, and this is often enough. If, during this period of time, I could not make the team play like I wanted it to…Of course, something might go wrong in September, but hey – if you want to something in April, team’s level should increase incrementally; you should be better in January than you were in September, and you should be better in April than you were in January.
Whom of current Traktor players do you consider the best?
The whole roster is alright. Bulis, Atyushov, Panov, Quint – those are the guys who helped me a lot. I always think well of the players, but these four are special for me in this roster. If I need to compare the level of players on the ice, it is impossible – it’s like comparing your own children (smiles). Glinkin is different from, say, Piganovich.
What do you think – how fully is Traktor realizing its potential at the moment?
I don’t know, and no one knows. There are 40 games to show it. Current rankings is another factor, and it is the most true of them. 60 games, then you look where you’re at in the rankings.
Do you stillbelieve in Traktor?
Of course! There is a goal – make it to the playoffs, and it is more than doable. If the boys are able to reach their A-game, it is not impossible at all.
Nietzsche once said ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. Will you become stronger after what has happened to you in Traktor?
Do I look like I am weak (smiles)? What upsets me is the fact that I had chance to create something special here, but just couldn’t. I gave this team my all. There wasn’t anything I couldn’t have done that I didn’t do.
I have been in hockey in quite a while. Seeing what is going on this week, I know what will happen the next week. Of course, I have received some experience here. Everything was new to me, but I still knew what to expect.
You know, when I was the head coach of U20 team Finland, I told the team at the first meeting: ‘You wear the team Finland jerseys, and I don’t want you to go around and say ‘Yay, see what USA did there? See what Canada did there?’ I want you to be proud of who you are’.
Same thing here in Chelyabinsk. When I see the people in the stands wearing Traktor scarfs…I tried to explain to the players that they should feel the energy of these fans. Something is wrong though – if it doesn’t make them give their 200%, then...
In KHL, coaches are often more than coaches, meaning that coaches here have a great method of motivating players – the financial one…
I understand what you are talking about (gets serious). When I went here, it was important for me to learn Russian culture and the mentality of Russian players. I started learning from day one, because you can’t coach if you don’t know the culture. But, there are foreign-born players, and one should consider that too. Of course, if I had had the experience before I received it, I would have done a lot of things differently.
There is a famous Russian story about a factory CEO who, when leaving his post, left three parcels with pieces of advice for the next CEO. If you were that leaving CEO, what pieces of advice would you leave to Andrei Nikolishin?
(after thinking) Nikolishin played here, right? You know, it is important to transfer that energy from the fans to the team. Not the pressure, but the energy! When I walked through the arena, I saw many fans who were very proud of wearing Traktor jerseys. I have been here four months, but even I, a foreigner, can feel the energy from these fans. I hope the fans will get more from Traktor because they really deserve it.
What are you going to wish to Traktor fans?
(smiles) Don’t ever change! There is a little forest right beside the place where I live. Each time I walk around that forest, I see a dozen of people who recognize me, greet me, wish me luck and make photos with me. Are there many places in the world when people recognize their team’s head coach while walking in the forest? I hope Traktor will forever be in the hearts of people of Chelyabinsk.