Olympic ice hockey gold medalist Alexei Kovalev has been appointed as the head coach of the Chinese club Kunlun Red Star. The 47-year-old Russian, who struck gold at the Albertville 1992 Games as part of the Unified Team, takes charge of the Beijing-based side which plays in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).

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He will oversee the team initially for the 2020-2021 season as travel and visa restrictions mean American Curt Fraser is unable to return to see out his contract. Kovalev is stepping up from his role as assistant to Fraser and has taken on a major challenge, as there are currently only 13 registered players at Kunlun.

The Chinese Government’s ban on sporting events for the rest of 2020, because of COVID-19, also means the club will not be able to play in their home country. A deal to use Arena Mytishchi in Moscow instead is reportedly on the cards.

“I was under pressure throughout my entire hockey career and the greater the pressure, the better I performed,” Kovalev, who is taking his first head coach role, said to RIA Novosti. 

Now, I hope it will be the same for me as a coach. Nothing is known officially at the moment. In general, we’re waiting to confirm a lot of things, from the roster to the start of our training camps. It’s hard to sit back and see the other teams get back to training, especially when we don’t know what sort of team we have.

We’re going to have to trust the individual players. After all, they are professionals and they should come to camp in more or less decent shape. But to do that, it’s already time to stop sitting at home and start getting fit.

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“Then we’ll put them through a concentrated programmed and try to do as much work as likely in the shortest time.”

The new KHL campaign is due to begin on September 2. Most of the clubs play in Russia but Latvia, Belarus, Finland, and Kazakhstan are also represented, as well as China. Kunlun Red Star was formed in 2016 as part of Chinese efforts to increase its ice hockey pedigree before the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. As well as his Olympic gold, Kovalev also won a bronze medal with Russia at Salt Lake City 2002. The right-wing won the Stanley Cup in 1994 with New York Rangers.

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