I don’t think it’s accurate to call former Flyers coach Mike Keenan the Larry Brown of hockey because everybody knew why four seasons were the longest he lasted in any of his eight NHL jobs.
“Iron Mike” had a bad disposition that quickly wore thin with players, management and ownership. Brown, who includes the Sixers as one of his 10 NBA jobs, with three more at major colleges, was just an oddball whom everybody liked but who could never quite figure out his wanderlust.
Still, the thing that Keenan and Brown had in common was the ability to turn a bad situation into something good in a hurry.
In his first and third seasons with the Flyers, Keenan took them to the Stanley Cup finals. In his one season with the New York Rangers (1994-95), he ended the franchise’s 54-year drought by winning the Stanley Cup.
Now at 67, Keenan is taking on what might be his biggest challenge.
On Thursday, Keenan was hired by the Chinese club KunLun Red Star. Based in Beijing (with some games played in Shanghai), KunLun is a second-year team in the KHL, which also has teams in Eastern European nations.
Keenan originally joined KunLun a few weeks ago as a member of the team’s International Advisory Board, which also includes Hall of Fame member Phil Esposito.
Keenan had been the technical development adviser.
Although KunLun is a professional team with a roster dominated by foreign players, Keenan has a co-primary mission of helping China develop players for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
As host nation, China will have a men’s hockey team in the Olympics for the first time and it is putting millions of dollars into the preparation, which included the creation of KunLun as a KHL expansion team last season.
The China men’s team has been a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation since 1972 and has participated in each IIHF World Championship, with its best result being 15th in 1982.
China finished 34th in 2016 and has placed better than 30th only once in the last 10 tournaments. Its international record is 119-184-27, and the nation is ranked 37th internationally out of 50 teams. That’s way behind Canada, Russia, Finland and the United States but four spots ahead of South Africa.
Keenan has been instructed to ensure that at least five Chinese players get regular ice time.
The early talk is that Keenan could end up as coach of the Chinese Olympic team – giving him his four-year window.