In late March we posted a Q&A with current Coyotes Senior Director of Media Relations Rich Nairn. Recently, while in the D.C. area, I was able to catch up with the man who in the position prior to him, current Capitals Director of Media Relations, Sergey Kocharov.
Carl - Sergey, great talking to you today. Can you give us a little background on how you actually got into hockey and then how you wound up working for the Coyotes?
Sergey - Well, actually I wasn't much of a hockey fan when I was a kid, played tennis for the most part and competed in junior tournaments. I started following the Coyotes when they moved from Winnipeg to Phoenix and I've followed them closely ever since. In 2001, while in school I got an internship with the Coyotes and remained with the team in some capacity. I wrote feature articles for game publications and covered all home games for the website for some time and stayed in close contact with the PR Department, Rich Nairn and Rick Braunstein. In 2006, a position opened up and they offered me the job as Manger of Media Relations. I was flattered and quickly accepted the job. As a kid, when you're watching a team and following them on a daily basis and then getting a chance to work for them was definitely a dream come true.
Carl - Excellent. Now you went from a team with no owner, unless you consider the NHL the owner, to one of the most involved and media savvy owners in the NHL with Ted Leonsis. Can you describe the differences in the experiences working for these teams, if there have been any, based on the ownership situations of the teams?
Sergey - Obviously, both of these franchises are in different situations. The Coyotes, prior to last season, haven't made the playoffs in seven years and to add you have the ownership uncertainty...it definitely makes it tough to promote and market the team effectively. I'm hoping that they rectify the ownership situation in the near future and from what I understand it's only a matter of time. In talking to people here, the Caps were in a similar situation four or five years ago when the team was struggling to win games. But since Mr. Leonsis took over he had a plan in place and with GM George McPhee they orchestrated that plan to perfection as this team has put itself in a great position to win this year and more importantly for many years to come. We held the Caps Convention before the season started and just to see the amount of interest and support this team currently has...we sold out 91 consecutive games and seeing so many fans in red and how supportive they are is truly amazing. I think with great leadership and sustained success on the ice this is possible no matter where you located.
Carl - That was the next question I was going to in term of the type of success they've had here could happen there (Phoenix). Is there anything you've seen in your experiences, now that you been with the club for eight months, that you've been here that could possibly be replicated to help draw fans in the Phoenix area?
Sergey - I think, to be quite honest, winning solves a lot of problems, so that's the number one priority. It obviously helps having the best player in the league in Alex Ovechkin and they you add Nick Backstrom, Alexander Semin and (Mike) Green. Those guys are easy to market and build your team around. The Caps are also very active in the community. For example, we have two hockey school visits a month during the regular season in addition to numerous other appearances. We are very engaged in the community, and I think that helps a lot. Look, the Coyotes are moving in the right direction. Dave Tippett is an incredible coach and Don Maloney has done a great job in Phoenix. I think once they get the ownership situation resolved, and I believe they will, they'll be just fine.
Carl - That brings me to my next question, which is about players. In your time with the Coyotes, and your time here as well, who have been the easiest players to work with?
Sergey - They were all very easy to work with. Obviously and I'm sure you've heard this before but Shane Doan is just one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. Numerous times I remember asking Doaner to do an in-studio appearance on Sunday sports shows on his only day off during the week and he always agreed and spent few hours with me driving around town from one station to next to promote our upcoming games. He simply gets it.
Carl - Alright. You actually have some history with the Coyotes in terms of donning the gear in practice. I wanted to ask you A. what that was like and B. if they've ask you to do that here, given the Brett Leonhardt experience here as a practice goalie.
Sergey - It was amazing. I remember the first time it happened in Phoenix. I was sitting at my desk and got a phone call from our video coach, Steve Peters , who said, Wayne Gretzky, who was the coach at the time, wants you to get dressed and on the ice in about 25 minutes. I wasn't really sure what to do. So, I got dressed and went on the ice...very nervous to say the least. I remember turning around to take a sip of water and put my mask on, turned back around and I've got Wayne skating toward me with pucks to warm me up. I think the next 5-10 pucks all went in. I couldn't feel my legs I was so nervous. After some time, I settled down a bit and I think I did okay. The players were great. It was definitely one of those experiences I'll never forget. I actually got to do it a few other times when Bryz wanted rest. As far as in Washington, I watched Brett practice here a couple of times this year before he moved on to the National Hockey League. He did very well. Hopefully I'll get my chance here as well. We'll see (Laughs).
Carl - Excellent. Are there any other moments, besides the ones you've mentioned so far, that you would call your favorite moments from working with the Coyotes?
Sergey - Last year, I think, in light of all the uncertainty and all the challenges we faced... to enjoy that kind of season was truly amazing. It was fun showing up to work every day. You go from barely having anyone in the building to start the season and the constant threats of the team relocating to selling out the last eight games, having every local TV affiliate and national media covering your playoff series was truly amazing. It was definitely a fun year and looks like the Coyotes are on their way to their second consecutive post-season, which is great to see.
Carl - My final question is now that you've been in DC for eight months, what do you miss the most about the Valley? Since you grew up in the Phoenix area and lived there for so long, what do you miss most living here about back there?
Sergey - Sun! It's April and I'm still freezing.
Carl - Yes, it's about 40 degrees outside today.
Sergey - No, it's been great. I'm still adjusting to the city and traffic...it definitely is very easy to get lost here (Laughs). It's been a fun year. Players have been very easy to work with. Coach Boudreau has been very helpful and is always fun to be around. It's been a fun and very eventful year with the Winter Classic and of course the HBO 24/7 series. Hopefully, we'll have a long run in the playoffs as well.
Carl - Thank you for taking the time out to talk to me. Hopefully, we'll get lucky and see you again in June, maybe, in Phoenix for a Coyotes/Capitals Stanley Cup final.
Sergey - That be great, Carl, thanks a lot.
Thanks again to Sergey for taking the time to meet up with me on a game night. You can follow him on Twitter. He still throws in a Coyotes tweet now and again.