Gary Graham ably led the Komets for six seasons as their head coach, making the playoffs each year and twice getting to the conference finals, before he was relieved of his duties May 13.
Now he’s got another head-coaching job, albeit about 6,676 miles from the Summit City.
Graham confirmed today he had been hired by a team in Beijing, China: ORG Beijing, which plays in the VHL, otherwise known as the Supreme Hockey League, considered the top minor league for the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League.
“It’s a two-year deal, a head-coaching job in the VHL, which is like the American Hockey League to the KHL,” Graham said. “There are a couple teams in China. It’s a Russian league. Our team is owned by ORG Packaging and my whole directive and initiative is to go in there and prepare the Chinese players for the 2022 Olympics (that will be) in Beijing.”
Graham is bringing Fort Wayne-native Brian Gratz as an assistant coach.
With the Komets, Graham had a 251-130-51 regular-season record, putting him behind only Al Sims (437), Greg Puhalski (271) and Ken Ullyot (264) in all-time victories.
In the postseason, Graham was 40-33, and the Komets won seven of 13 series.
They lost in six games this year to the rival Toledo Walleye in the first round, after which he was replaced as head coach by his assistant, Ben Boudreau.
Because Graham, 40, has gotten another job, the Komets are off the hook for having to pay him for the final season of his contract, a source said.
“It’s very reminiscent of when I took over in Fort Wayne,” Graham said. “When I took over in Fort Wayne, they were (fifth) to last in the ECHL. ORG was dead last in the league last year. I always like taking on challenges and this is a unique challenge, developing the local Chinese players and putting together a winning program – something they can be proud of.”
ORG Beijing will play a 56-game season and Graham, who plans to learn Chinese to better communicate with his players, will get to coach games in places like Russia and South Korea.
The ORG Beijing roster will also have some players imported from North America and some from Russia; one player listed on their roster for this season, according to EliteProspects.com, is former Komets defenseman Mikael Tam.
“To get a chance to do something like this where you can have your finger on something tied in with the Olympics, it’s really unique and a special opportunity,” Graham said.
While Graham had been in the mix for some head-coaching jobs in the ECHL, including those with the Indy Fuel and Brampton Beast, ORG Beijing came to him after a recommendation from former ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna, who is consulting with Chinese hockey, Graham said.
His first game of the regular season will be Sept. 1.
Graham was in Boston last week, when the top 20 Chinese players were working with Boston Bruins staff, and he got to evaluate some of the players.
“There are some very talented Chinese players, that’s for sure,” Graham said. “It’s going to be really exciting. The kids are sponges. Getting North American-style coaching is going to be something different for them. Watching the Bruins coaching staff go through video sessions, some of the kids stuck around wanting more video. They want to learn, want to get better, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to work with them.”
Gratz, who played briefly for the Komets in 2005-06, has been a head coach in Dayton and Bloomington of the Central Hockey League, and Greenville of the ECHL, and most recently head of athlete development at the SportONE/Parkview Icehouse.