In 2013-14, ‘Iron’ Mike Keenan’s first season as coach of the KHL’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk, he led the franchise to its first Gagarin Cup. Less than two seasons later, Keenan is out of a job after losing back-to-back games for the first time in 2015-16.
Heading into this campaign, Metallurg was looking to get back into the winner’s circle after being ousted in the second round of the post-season in 2014-15. Through 19 games, Keenan had coached Magnitogorsk to a 7-8-6 record and a more than respectable 33 points. They had won seven of their first eight games and had jumped out to a strong start.
Though the victories weren’t coming quite as often, the club was right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference when they dropped back-to-back games this past week. The first defeat was a 4-2 loss Wednesday at the hands of Jokerit, one of the strongest teams in the Western Conference, and dropped a Friday game 6-4 to conference rival Salavat Yulaev. By Saturday, TSN's Darren Dreger reported Keenan was out of a job.
“At this stage, we have (only been) a little satisfied with the quality of the game, so we decided to go for a change,” Metallurg vice president Gennady Velichkin told SovSport.ru. “The team task is to win the Gagarin Cup, and we are acting for the sake of its decision.”
The firing is somewhat shocking, especially considering there had been some talk Keenan could even join Team Russia at the World Cup of Hockey. According to Dreger (via NBC Sports), Keenan had been encouraged to get Russian citizenship and was reportedly in the mix to be part of Russian coaching staffs at international tournaments. However, Keenan told SovSport.ru the report was only speculation and nothing had been discussed.
“Imagine what they would say about me in the crowd at home if I can help Russia beat Canada,” Keenan added.
Keenan’s unsure of where his career will take him now, but he was reportedly offered another position within the organization in Magnitogorsk.
“It is difficult to talk about the future at the moment,” Keenan told SovSport.ru. “But maybe my experience and coaching skills anyway will be in demand with Mettalurg.”
Keenan won the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year in 1984-85, and led the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup in 1993-94. Keenan has also won OHA and AHL titles during his coaching career.