Jalonen Takes The Reins At SKA
Published: December 5, 2012 (Issue # 1738)
St. Petersburg SKA’s new head coach Jukka Jalonen, who was introduced to the team following last Friday’s 6-1 loss to Spartak Moscow, held his first practice with the team Monday.
SKA signed Jalonen, Finland’s national team coach, on Nov. 29 on an 18-month contract.
Jalonen will wear two hats, as he will continue to be Finland’s national coach until the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships in May 2013, which will be co-hosted by Finland and Sweden. During his four years as head coach he has led the Finns to the gold medal at the 2011 World Championships in Slovakia and the bronze medal at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.
“I’m really excited about this new step in my career,” he told journalists after practice. “The team is in great condition and I want to thank the previous coach for his work. Just look at where we are in the standings. He truly did a excellent job, however, I already have some ideas that will lift the club to new heights and ensure it will achieve its maximum potential during the playoffs.”
Jalonen replaces interim head coach Mikhail Kravets, who in his two appearances at the helm, saw his team edged out by Donbass Donetsk 3-2 last Wednesday before getting punished by Spartak.
Team management fired former coach Milos Riha on Nov. 25, following SKA’s 4-3 win over Vityaz Chekhov — a result that took the team to the top of the Kontinental Hockey League standings and gave them a sixth win out of seven in November.
The unexpected firing prompted speculation of internal conflict between Riha and team captain Ilya Kovalchuk, who has been playing for the team since SKA took advantage of the North American National Hockey League lockout to sign him in September. Kovalchuk denied the allegations, stating “all these rumors about problems between Riha and me are total nonsense… No one ever said that Milos was a bad coach. Both management and players are grateful for his work. The stadium was always packed and we played great hockey.”
“However, perhaps the last month we haven’t been playing at the level that management expects from us, and that’s why they made this change,” he said.
SKA general manager Alexei Kasatonov told news site Lenta.ru that Riha’s team should have achieved more with the budget and roster that he had, suggesting that the team’s sponsor, gas giant Gazprom should be getting more for their money.
SKA will play two home games this week, on Wednesday night against Atlant Moscow Oblast, and on Friday against Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. Both games start at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice Palace.