About the League
Georgi Gelashvili made his coaching debut this season as Belye Medvedi Chelyabinsk goaltending coach. Gelashvili hung up his skates in the fall of 2018 and joined Alexei Zavarukhin’s coaching staff rather soon – in May 2019. In this interview to Junior Hockey League media relations Gelashvili spoke about his first season as a coach and his new role.
“MY MEMORIES ARE NOT ABOUT TROPHIES BUT ABOUT MY TEAMMATES”
Georgy Gelashvili didn’t make a big announcement when he retired. After terminating by mutual agreement his contract with Yermak Angarsk in 2018, Gelashvili disappeared from the radar for a while.
“I just don’t know how one should do it. I didn’t know I had to report about it anywhere,” laughs Gelashvili. “Actually, after Yermak I even got a couple of calls. For instance, from Team Georgia [Georgi’s father is Georgian]. But I told everyone that I had retired. A little later I made a call to the Players’ Association and signed the necessary documents. So now I’m a certified retired player.”
Gelashvili spent the last years of his playing career in the VHL as a member of Saryarka Karaganda. He had left the club a year before the Kazakhstan team won their second Petrov Cup in franchise history.
“It seemed that my last season with Saryarka was going to be the last one in my career as well,” looks back Georgi. “However, after that I received an exciting offer from Irtysh. Although, due to limit on players older than 30 I didn’t get a chance to play for the club in Kazakhstan championship. After that I signed with Yermak but I played just nine games in Angarsk [one of the games was against Bars Kazan. Ak Bars Kazan forward Alexander Svitov, who was sent down to VHL to gain game conditions after a series injury, scored two goals on Gelashvili in his debut game].
“At that time I realized that it was time for me to go home and retire,” says Gelashvili. “I was drawn back to my hometown throughout my career. And even though it was a really tough decision to make, a series of events led me to it.”
Gelashvili continues to practice with Traktor Chelyabinsk old-timers team. Another Belye Medvedi goaltending coach, Marat Askarov, is also on the team. Maxim Smelnitsky, who led Belye Medvedi to Junior Hockey League bronze medals in 2018, and Anver Gatiyatullin, SKA St. Petersburg and Team Russia assistant coach, also Chelyabinsk old-timers’ jersey back in a day.
“For a lot of people, myself included, retiring is a pretty difficult time to handle. In this transition period I was supported by Traktor veterans. One day I got a call from them and they asked me why wasn’t I practicing with them,” says Gelashvili. “It’s like I woke up after the first practice with them. It’s great to see them follow everyone like that and that they were ready to help.”
Gelashvili’s career has seen many bright moments. The goaltender made his Kontinental Hockey League debut in 2008 and in appeared in the inaugural Gagarin Cup Finals in April 2009 with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. After the series Gelashvili was named the top goaltender of the season and received the prestigious Golden Helmet. A year later he participated in KHL All-Star Game.
“As the matter of fact, I put my best goaltender trophy, Golden Helmet, silver medal and All-Star Game jersey in my garage,” says Gelashvili. “I’m not too big on those trophies. The most vivid of my memories are not about things but about the guys I played with. After all, I was lucky enough to play alongside many megastars. Alexei Yashin, Sergei Fedorov, Sergei Gonchar, Evgeny Malkin and Ryan O’Reilly to name just a few. When I was just a little kid, I would watch all Yashin games on television. Back then I couldn’t even dream of playing with him one day! When I first joined Lokomotiv I didn’t even know how to address Alexei – whether I should use an official or more of a laidback approach. And a year later I was the goaltender of Team Yashin at KHL All-Star Game!
“Incidentally, I followed O’Reilly’s St. Louise Blues last year,” adds Gelashvili. “I was very happy to see him become a Stanley Cup champion. I’m also very happy for [Vladimir] Tarasenko. I had played with his father for Kazakhmys Karaganda back in a day. So I remember Vova since he was very little.”
“THE BOYS ASKED MY ABOUT GAGARIN CUP FINALS JUST A COUPLE OF TIMES”
“After I retired I felt like taking a break for a while. However, about just three weeks later I didn’t feel comfortable being in that situation,” explains Gelashvili his journey to becoming a coach. “Back then I realized that I wanted to stay in hockey further. Many of my acquaintances told me that coaching work puts hockey players back into the routine they’re used to. It also gives similar emotions and the will to win, which didn’t go anywhere in me.
“I had certain skills to become a coach. After graduating from school, I went on to get a higher education and I kept on studying even in the six months that I spent with Yermak. I studied at Highest Coaching School. I obtained a lot of exciting and useful knowledge. With all that under my belt, I went to Traktor management and expressed my desire to work in Chelyabinsk. I told them about my vision. Club management hired me within just a few days.”
Gelashvili was appointed Belye Medvedi goaltending coach in May 2019. In the 2019-20 season as many as four different netminders were on ‘Polar Bears’ roster – Ilya Gorbunov, Viktor Selivyorstov, Boris Solomatin and Vyacheslav Buteyets.
“I told the boys right in the beginning how I would like things to go in the future and about my coaching approach. Hockey players heeded to my demands. I had almost nothing to criticize them for in the regular season,” admits Gelashvili.
Former Lokomotiv goaltender has a lot of stories to share with the youngsters from his profound personal experience. For instance, in 2009 Gelashvili helped Yaroslavl to reach the first ever Gagarin Cup Finals. The series went on for seven games. The only goal in that bout was scored past Gelashvili current Kontinental Hockey League president Alexei Morozov, who was an Ak Bars Kazan forward at the time. Incidentally, current KHL junior hockey development vice-president, Alexander Guskov, was a teammate of Gelashvili’s.
“The boys asked me about those finals, perhaps, once or time,” believes Gelashvili. “I have always said that I got lucky a fair share of times in my life. I played for top class teams who battled for the most coveted trophies and went for deep playoff runs. But the teams I was on weren’t very lucky in Game 7’s. When I was with Lokomotiv, we lost Game 7 to Ak Bars in the 2009 finals. The following season my team couldn’t beat HC MVD in Western Conference Finals Game 7. Oleg Znarok was the head-coach of the team. In 2011 I played for Metallurg Magnitogorsk and we lost in Eastern Conference Finals to future champions Salavat Yulaev Ufa. They beat us 1-0. Obviously, memories of those almost won series and those 1-goal differential losses are painful but I learned a lot from those series.”
Back in his playing career Gelashvili was considered as one of the most emotional Russian hockey players. All of his teammates noticed his emotional support from between the pipes, while his fight with the famous Vityaz Moscow Region enforcer Jeremy Yablonski became almost legendary. “There are no unemotional goaltenders out there”, “My game is my emotions”, “You can’t win anything in sports without emotions” – these quotes belong to Gelashvili, who always brought up Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur as examples. Nevertheless, it’s very different now.
“When you become a coach, you need to restrain your emotions,” explains Gelashvili. “Perhaps, that was the biggest obstacle I had to deal with during my first year behind the bench. At first, when I was only getting used to my new role, I would feel nervous. It was unusual to be behind the bench and not on the ice.”
Gelashvili says he relies on the latest hockey trends in his work and continues to learn from his colleagues, including those who coach abroad.
“In my opinion, the strongest goaltending school is currently in Finland,” points out Gelashvili. “I still keep in touch with foreign coaches. For example, with Ilari Nakel. We worked together at Lokomotiv. It’s very useful. Nakel even came to Chelyabinsk once. I asked him to coach at a short camp for local young goaltenders.”
“Russia also has a good goaltending coach,” continues Georgy. “The level of Russian goaltenders has improved. A lot of Russian netminders now play in the National Hockey League. There are plenty who play in Russia as well and there a lot of promising youngsters. It happened largely due to the limit on import goaltenders put forward by the Russia Ice Hockey Federation. That’s when young Russian goaltenders began getting the nod more often. It was largely to that limit that I was able to establish myself as a KHL goaltender, much as Sergei Bobrovsky began playing for Metallurg Novokuznetsk.”
“I’M HAPPY THAT BELYE MEDVEDI GOALTENDERS LOST TO TOLPAR IN A VIDEOGAME”
Belye Medvedi got off to a decent start in the season with a renewed coaching staff. Chelyabinsk finished fifth in the Eastern Conference in regular season standings and in the opening round of Kharlamov Cup Playoffs they went on to eliminate Avto Yekaterinburg, who had played in the finals the previous year.
“Obviously, we realized that we faced silver medalists in the opening round of the playoffs. They were just a handful of minutes away from winning the championship title last year,” admits Gelashvili. “You can beat a team like that only with team work. You could feel the chemistry and bonding especially in Game 5. It was evident even from the bench. No series is one without team effort. I remembered the words Vitaly Vishnevsky once told me when we played for Lokomotiv. It’s great to have a star team, not a team of stars. You can win any cup with a team like that.
“After the series we celebrated our proceeding to the next round with a cool head. We kept our emotions in check,” adds Georgy. “It’s difficult for me to compare it with what was going on in the dressing-room back when I played myself because players and coaches go through different emotions. Youngsters are more emotional. They would yell and celebrate, whereas I, as their major, was more composed with my emotions.”
Due to coronavirus pandemic Kharlamov Cup Playoffs have been postponed but Gelashvili wants to get the maximum positive out of the situation.
“Being a goaltender is a tough job to have. They’re under a great pressure ever since they’re kids. They have a huge responsibility to deal with. It’s very difficult and that’s why I do my best to help the boys switch off every now and then,” explains Gelashvili. “For example, we have to use this pause to reboot and rest. Because during the season our goaltenders were under a lot of stress. If you look at statistics, you’re going to see that it was a rare occasion when we faced less than 35 shots a game.”
“I told the boys to forget about hockey for a while. Ilya Gorbunov and Viktor Selivyorstov recently played a videogame against Tolpar [Ufa] players and lost it. I don’t like losing but I’m probably glad they lost. Because it means that the boys heeded to my words and don’t spend too much time in front of computers. Since they lost, that means that they didn’t practice long with the gamepad,” adds Gelashvili with a smile. “I ask my players to read more often and sometimes they share what they’ve read. They read athletes’ biographies and everyone finds something for himself.”