COLOGNE – Eduard Zankovets probably thought he’d seen it all during his 15-year career that took him from his native Minsk, Belarus to the Germany, Finland, Denmark, the U.S. – and back to Minsk.
But he didn’t see Glen Hanlon walk into the sporting goods store the former Belarus national team player managed and offer him a job as the assistant coach of the Belarus national team.
“When I was going through an interview process with the assistants, he wasn’t even coaching. He was working in a sporting goods store,” says Glen Hanlon, now head coach of Slovakia.
“Vladimir Tsyplakov came to me and said that he knew somebody with a really good hockey mind. I went and had coffee with Eduard, spent 45 minutes with him. I came back from the meeting and said that this guy’s going to make a great coach one day,” he adds.
Tsyplakov, a former NHLer, then Hanlon's and now Zankovets’s assistant, knew his hockey minds. He also knew Zankovets. The two had been teammates on Dynamo Minsk and the Belarus national team.
“It was a big surprise. I had retired the year before, and was out of hockey, not thinking about coaching and hadn’t got any offers to coach, either. To get the offer to start my coaching career with the national team was really a surprise. It’s not how you usually begin your career,” Zankovets says.
The choice of beverage varies in Hanlon’s and Zankovets’s stories about their meeting, but what is obvious is that it was a meeting of two hockey minds that saw the game in the same way.
“I knew I was going to get a lot of criticism because he had never coached a game in his life, but I took him to the Vienna World Championship with me. Eduard works hard and he has a great hockey mind,” says Hanlon.
“I really liked his ideas of team building. I think it was very fortunate for Belarusian hockey that they found Hanlon,” adds Zankovets.
Glen Hanlon opened the door, and Eduard Zankovets walked right through it. For the past few years, he’s also been an assistant with SKA St. Petersburg, now in the KHL. But the Belarus head coach job has made him thirsty for more.
“I like coaching. I’ve been an assistant in SKA Petersburg, and then worked with the national team at the breaks. I’d like to be a head coach but you never know what can happen. It depends a little on the results we get from here,” the 40-year-old coach says.
For now, the results are fine. Belarus beat Kazakhstan in their first game of the tournament, and have clinched a spot in the qualification round. Belarus’s best finish since the Vienna tournament in 2005 when Zankovets made his coaching debut, is sixth in 2006.
“I’m not happy about every aspect of our game. We have pretty good passing game, but we could have played better yesterday against Slovakia. Our guys played hard and gave their best. Some of them are very young,” he says.
“But now we know that we’ll make the next round. We know we’ll have at least four more games in the tournament and we have to win some of them. Anything is possible,” he adds, with a big grin.
And he should know.