Iron Mike to Italy
by FISG|18 OCT 2022
Mike Keenan last coached Chinese KHL team Kunlun Red Star in 2017.
photo: Maxim Bogodvin / RIA Novosti
The Italian Ice Sports Federation (FISG) signed Mike Keenan as the new head coach of the Italian men’s national ice hockey team that will compete at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Nottingham, Great Britain next spring.

Keenan will be presented at a press conference in Bolzano tomorrow and joins a national team with the 2026 Olympic Winter Games on home ice in Milan on the horizon.

The native of Bowmanville, Ontario in Canada is a well-known personality in the hockey world with extraordinary experiences and great successes having won both the NHL’s Stanley Cup and the KHL’s Gagarin Cup as a head coach as well as having international experience with Team Canada. Joining him in the role as an associate coach will be his fellow countryman Mike Pelino, another former Team Canada coach.

Mike Keenan

Keenan took his first coaching steps in the late 1970s and early 1980s, winning trophies in both youth leagues and, in 1983, in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans. In 1984 he got his first contract in the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers, winning the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year. He coached in the world's top league until 2009, also playing multiple roles (head coach, but also general manager) for the Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames. In 1994 he guided the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup, the first since 1940 and the last won by the Rangers. He also coached the Canadian national team in 1987 and 1991, winning the Canada Cup twice, and at the 1993 World Cup of Hockey. Keenan ranks 15th on the list of all-time winningest NHL coaches, with 672 wins out of 1,386 games. His teams never missed the playoffs until 1998.

In 2009 he decided to take a break from his coaching career, becoming a commentator and analyst for the Rangers MSG Network and MSG Hockey Nights Live. In 2013 he returned behind the bench as a coach in Europe. His debut in the KHL, with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, was one to remember. He won the Gagarin Cup in a thrilling final that ended in Game 7 against Lev Prague, won the Coach of the Year honours and participated in the All Star Game. He became the first coach to win both the Stanley Cup and the Gagarin Cup. He remained with Metallurg until 17 October 2015, then was appointed on 16 March 2017 as head coach of Kunlun Red Star, China's first KHL team, a role he held until 3 December of that year.  

Because of his coaching style, he has been nicknamed “Iron Mike”. Keenan, who has coached some of the best players ever in his very long career, will now put his experience and deep knowledge of hockey at the disposal of the Italian national team.

Mike Pelino

In the late 1990s and early 2000s Mike Pelino first coached the U18 (as head coach) and U20 (as assistant) national teams of Canada, and then joined the senior national team as assistant coach, winning World Championship gold in 2003. He also served as head coach at a Deutschland Cup and two Spengler Cups. In 2005 he came to the NHL, where he was an assistant coach for the New York Rangers for four years. From 2010 to 2012, he coached the OHL’s Peterborough Petes, then moved overseas with Keenan as an assistant with Metallurg Magnitorosk. He remained in the KHL until the end of last season, holding the same role for Avangard Omsk, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and, most recently, Ak Bars Kazan. In 2014 and 2016, with Metallurg, he also won the Gagarin Cup.

Mike Keenan, head coach Italian men’s national team: 
“I have had so many wonderful international experiences, but this for me is both a challenge and a unique opportunity. I find it exciting to be able to follow a process of building and developing a team ahead of an Olympics, plus as the host country. This experience will also give me the opportunity to learn about new and different aspects of the game. Sometimes miracles happen. The Italian people are passionate about sports, and for this reason I want expectations to be high. I’m a person who is not afraid to try to break down odds and adversity. I have coached Team Canada in the past and I am used to setting up competitive teams despite not being able to coach them on a day-to-day basis. I want my players to be able to excel, to have a desire for results, to be inspired by the idea of success, and to be able to compete under pressure.”

Stefan Zisser, head of national ice hockey teams and FISG South Tyrol president:
“I first want to thank Greg Ireland and his staff for their work over the past period. When Greg was hired in the KHL we had to find a replacement for him. We are proud to have found an agreement with two great coaches and we can say we are ready for this new adventure. With a staff like this, which will be further expanded shortly, we are confident that we can give a big boost in these early stages and then continuity for the coming years, in view of the 2026 Olympics and beyond.”

Marcello Cobelli, FISG hockey sector manager:
“We want to start an ambitious project, and the FISG wants to put everything it can on the table. Keenan and Pelino are two prestigious names on an international level, personalities from which the whole movement can benefit. This is an excellent starting point, but it is only the first step. There will be much to do.”

Keenan’s debut at the Tamas Sarkozy Memorial Tournament in Budapest in November

The Blue Team’s next challenge is scheduled for 10-13 November at the Tamas Sarkozy Memorial Tournament in Budapest, Hungary. The “Azzurri” will take on Ukraine (10 Nov. at 15:00), Slovenia (11 Nov. at 18:30) and on Sunday against a team from the other group (Hungary, Japan, France).

This will be the first stage of preparation ahead of the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A, which will be staged from 29 April to 5 May in Nottingham, Great Britain. The goal is to return to the Top Division. In addition to host Great Britain and Italy, the national teams of Lithuania, Korea, Poland and Romania will also compete for promotion.