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January 8, 2002

Former KGB Officer Vladimir Plyschev Wins the WJC 

It doesn't help that the Russian coach Vladimir Plyuschev is a nutbar, 
who figures everybody's out to get him and his kids.
His moral timber sounds like it's made of balsa wood.
Said Prendergast: "I don't know where this guy's from,
maybe the Mafia brought him in, but he sounds like he's part psycho.
All I know is last year, an older guy was the coach ...
and he had a lot of discipline. These kids don't seem to have much." 

-- JIM MATHESON
Edmonton Journal January 4, 2002

How right was Mr. Prendergast at the recent WJC in Czech Republic saying that Plyuschev sounds like he's part psycho! Yes, Mr. Plyuschev has been part psycho that time and it's been his strategy with very wise tactics en route to the brilliant 5:4 win in the WJC final with Team Canada. 

In fact Vladimir Anatolyevich Plyuschev is quite an ordinary man with normal person's psyche. One thing is really undoubted that he is a coach out of the ordinary. Who's mister Plyushev in fact? 

I've got acquainted with Vladimir Plyuschev in August 2000 at the Spartak's Cup tournament. It's been quite by chance that I've met him there that time. All Russian mass media, hockey experts and fans have been attracted by well-advertised Bure Team- World Team match and didn't care much about this person. Imagine my surprise when I've noticed him at one of the Sokolniky Ice Arena's sectors for the ordinary hockey fans. As it has turned out later he hasn't been even given free tickets for the games. Yes, Mr. Plyuschev has been an enigmatic coach for many hockey officials, a man without any sufficient achievements in the past as a player, and that's unfortunately still a factor in such bureaucratic hockey country as former Soviet Union then Russia. Russian high ranked officials with Soviet mentality don't like and don't want to see a new generation of hockey experts being in charge of Superleague teams and holding any other high posts. Old well established generation has got a foothold in an increasingly lucrative business. For them it's easy to work in Russia where politics and poverty and corruption and hockey are intertwined in a combustible mix; many refuse to work here. Reaching agreements on industry ethics under such circumstances is no easy task but not for old generation. 

Gandler once confessed to Faceoff.com's correspondent Mark Brender, "I can tell you with my reputation I shouldn't have much difficulty signing players in Russia and yet there are some players that are totally off limits because they're being sold by particular individuals to agents for the highest bids." 

Many NHL agents' cozy relationship to the coaching staff and management of Under -18, 20 Junior Team Russia and club teams of this country has deprived Russia of its best young players or at the worst cases the athletes have been turning into the mediocre players and quitted with hockey somewhere in the minor leagues. 

Certain coaches, hopefully minority of them and team officials are getting a piece of the riches awaiting any player good enough to make the NHL. They play politics with the rosters of their teams. Some better kids never get a chance to showcase them because they refuse to sign with certain agents. Now, I think you understand why Junior Team Russia has been without gold till 1998/99 and then failed it's 2000/01 WJC in Moscow. There's no need to talk about senior Team Russia which hasn't won any World Championships since 1993. 

Well, I've digressed a little bit here it's the topic for a separate reflections let's stick to the main story about the personality of Mr. Plyuschev. So as I've mentioned before he is the man of new generation of Russian coaches with quite different attitude to the personality of young hockey player. One Russian player comparing Plyuschev with senior Team Russia coach Boris Mikhailov who still belongs to the instructors of the old formation with their "do it or die onto the ice whatever be" tells that Plyuschev explains everything in a very easy-to-understand way and never never raises his voice or calls a player stupid if he doesn't catch his idea or something like that. He is very polite and modest person with an American smile on the face which he is hiding in his neat moustaches. Several players of middle age even once open-heartedly confessed to me that they are envious of the young generation who has been working under Mr. Plyuschev. Speaking about his modesty I always memorize my acquaintance with him in August 2000 at the Spartak's Cup tournament. 

It's been a warm summer day. The game has been over and I've left the Sokolniky Ice Arena to enjoy the sun in the nearby park. Suddenly I've noticed two men one of whom has been Mr.Plyuschev. That time he hasn't been known to the wide audience because solid sporting mass medias and TV companies didn't pay lot of attention to ice hockey for the recent years and the Under-17 Team Russia which has won Challenge Cup in Canada. So I've approached him and told that I want him to be interviewed by me. He has made a pause and wondered if I know who he is. I replied without any hesitation that he is the coach of the world's best junior hockey team. He smiled and said, "Yes, my name is Vladimir Anatolyevich Plyuchev and I'm ready for an interview." We've been talking for several minutes then exchanged telephone numbers, shaken each others' hands and parted. After it I've been calling him several times and never got a refusal for an interview even at the moments when he's been very busy with his work. That's not typical of any Russian coach. Usually Russian journalists have to run after instructors the whole day in vain hope to get an interview. There is something very attractive in Mr.Plyuschev and the players of his team which makes them out of the ordinary. 

I've looked into his face couple of times at the moment of that great win in Canada at the tapes which I've managed to get and you know what occurred to my mind? He behaves himself like North American coaching legend Scotty Bowman! Russians never behave themselves this way. His gesticulation behind players' bench is a copy of Scotty's one when he's been leading his Montreal Canadiens and Canada in the Superseries Games with Red Army and USSR Team. The most important thing it brings success to his team. 

I guess it's high time to tell all the rest and the most interesting things about Mr.Plyuschev to the hockey fans of the entire world. 

He's been born in August 2, 1955. He speaks of himself, "I'm a product of CSKA Moscow hockey school. I've been Under-18, 20 USSR Champion. I'm the owner of the 1976 USSR Cup with Dynamo Moscow. I didn't manage to make the roster of any senior Moscow-based team of those times because of mad competition for the spot in the line-up. The question has arisen whether to earn money playing for the team of any other city or to get good education. I've made the second choice and I've been admitted to the Russia's State Academy of Physical Culture (Sergey Fedorov, Pavel Bure Anna Kournikova and many other famous Russian athletes are the students of this Academy). After graduating from the Institute I've been offered a job senior teacher's assistant. Later I've been recruited to serve in the KGB. I've been in charge of the department which fights with terrorism. I've been doing strategic work there for 13 years running and there is been a lot of things to do even that times. In a mean time I've been appointed lieutenant-colonel rank and I've been at the head of one small sub-unit in the central machinery of State. In 1993 the reorganization of State security has started. It's been not an easy matter for me to accept the new principles of work (topic for a separate discussion) and remembering of once given officer's oath I've soon tendered my resignation. I got a job in the hockey federation (lawyer) and at the same time made up my mind to start coaching the kids. As a result I've won unofficial under-17 WJC in Canada and later in 2001 I've captured WJC gold with the same but already Under-18 Team Russia." 

On the background of the previous disappointing failure of the Under-20 Team Russia coached by Peter Vorobyev in front of its home crowd in the 2000/01 in Moscow Vladimir Plyuschev with his kids has been looking as a real winner. Several months later he has been appointed a head coach of the Under-20 Team Russia. 

Russian hockey has had a need in a man not interested in the playing politics with the roster of Russian team. The main principle of Plyuschev is the following, "If you didn't make the team, you didn't make the team." He is an independent man without any obligations to any club of the Russian Superleague. As he says, "I'm not interested in the promotion of this or that player. Me and me will be the only man who will determine the roster of the team, the methods of coaching and the strategy. Only I will be responsible for the final result." Plyuschev adds, "In the national team must play not only skillful players but also those for whom respect for Russia and its flag isn't an empty phrase." Touching upon the scouts-agents-players interrelations topic he commented, "I will not work with men who use my team trying to attain their own ambition. No matter whether we speak about the players who play on the team for the sake of their own image or the agents who want to get a piece of reaches awaiting the player good enough to make the NHL. If any scouts or agents try to interfere my work I may even hit them with a stick without any hesitation. So it's better for them to remember it and keep away from the dressing room of my team! (Laughs) 

"I believe, in Russia there is no unskillful generation of players. There are many inexpert and unqualified coaches. I don't believe when in this great country with its great hockey traditions and brilliant system of coaching people say that it's impossible to find 22 players with the psychology of winners. If you can not find them in Moscow then go to Siberia, no result in Siberia then go to Kamchatka. Somewhere you'll find for sure the player who with his potential is the match for the old traditions of our hockey. I always do this way and as a result my team has won thrice WJCs. The representatives of 13 different Russian clubs have been on the roster of my team," said Vladimir Plyuschev. 

"One should acknowledge that ice hockey for Russia is geopolitical kind of sports in other words it's one of its strategic priority spheres. That's the principle of my work," concluded former KGB lieutenant-colonel Vladimir Plyuschev. 

Undoubtfuly he has used in his coaching work the methods of penetration in the humans' psychology and understanding it. Afterall he has been responsible for strategic work at the department which fights with terrorism for 13 years running. His strategy for the 2001/02 WJC tournament in Czech Republic has brought him a great success. In the round-robin games his team has been in the lead in penalty minutes and has been considered as one of the most undisciplined squads. Under-20 Team Russia has been scoring lesser goals than its rivals Canada, Sweden, Finland and Czech Republic. It has been beaten 5:2 by Canada and lost to Finland 1:2. They have simply lulled the vigilance of their rivals and didn't show their hand. In quarterfinal, semifinal and final it's been quite different team with very strict discipline. No more fun anymore. Strategy is very important thing and there's nothing to do about it. 

Congratulations on winning the 2001/02 WJC to already well-known Mr. Plyuschev and his brilliant Under-20 Team Russia.

  Denis Neznanov
HockeyZonePlus' Russian Correspondent

 

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