|Vlad Rubes: The Coach
From the foundation of the AIHL, Vlad Rubes has been the head coach of the Sydney Bears. During that period few coaches have come close to equalling Rubes' tenure in the AIHL. Both the Adelaide's John Botterill and the Newcastle North Stars' Don Champagne, both who tallied 10 seasons. In his years occupying the dual positions of player-coach, the Bears were successful in winning AIHL championships in 2002 and 2007.
Rubes, a successful player-coach has seen the ups and downs of the Bears, attempting to rebuild the club he has put so much of his playing and coaching career into. After early success, the Bears last made the finals in 2010 and are hoping to return in 2014.
“When we were unsuccessful, we were in transition,” Rubes said. “We went from having an experienced team to not having a good supply of local players, or good young players. I think this year we have been successful in getting those young players that have played on the youth national team, or junior national team. They have the talent, they want to learn, and they want to spend 10 or so years in the league.”
This has been Rubes’ first full season solely as head coach for the Bears. The results have been strong with Rubes behind the bench with the Bears going 3-3-1-1 in their first eight games.
“I think I can now spend more time actually explaining to players what needs to be done on the ice,” Rubes said. “I can see things now that I couldn’t see when resting on the bench. For me personally, I’m quite happy to just be on the bench and I was ready about three years ago. But we were lacking players and my buddies told me to come back and said they wanted me to play for the Bears. There are games where you feel you still have something in you and you want to stay. Injuries have forced me off the ice but I’m enjoying it.”
Rubes also brings a wealth of experience on the international stage after progressing from assistant coach in 2001 to head coach in 2003 for the Australian national under-18’s team. In eighteen games as head coach for the team they went 10-1-7. Five out of the six years of his involvement with the team, Australia finished third or higher and won the under-18 Division III Group A World Championships in 2003 and 2005.
As head coach of the Australian men’s national team in 2011 and 2012, Rubes’ team saw a decisive win in 2011, winning promotion to Division I Group B when the World Championships came to Melbourne. Rubes described this as a fantastic opportunity as many players potentially put off by the expense or time required competing internationally were quite eager to represent their country and he had a wealth of players to choose from.
In 2012, playing in the higher division, Australia was relegated but put on inspiring and memorable displays, particularly against Poland. Losing 5-3, the Polish crowd were cheering for the Australians throughout the game as they took the game to the hosts.
As a player who played under Rubes at both club and national level, Michael Schlamp noticed a distinct difference in his approach to coaching for Australia.
“He was always a player-coach with the Bears, so he was trying to do both things at once,” Schlamp said. “He did really well as a player-coach but when I went away with the national team in Melbourne, his coaching went a whole other level. He’s very professional and he did such a good job organizing the team, preparing us for the games, just knowing the other teams and getting everybody ready. It was next level coaching. He’s a fantastic coach.”
With players coming from all states representing Australia, uniting an off-season team to compete with other playoff ready countries was a particular challenge. Schlamp states Rubes’ led by example when coaching after his years representing Australia as a player.
“Everybody in different cities got together,” Schlamp said. “Vlad was coaching here and all the Sydney boys would go out to the park every weekend. He’d take us through and he did all the training with us. There’s enough guys in every city that they can get together, rent ice time and do their off-ice stuff.”
When describing his coaching style, Rubes’ likes to build trust with his players.
“When they ask, ‘are you a head coach who yells at players or a quiet coach?’ I like to think I’m more a quiet coach,” Rubes said. “I think it’s more important that players on the team talk with the staff. You give them the instructions but it’s up to them on the ice to do it. They find it working, and believe what you say. It’s not about a ‘rah-rah’ style and getting them pumped. We want to get them excited and you want to be excited for them but I think it’s more inner motivation than just someone telling them, ‘you guys have to win’ or yelling in the change room with a raised voice. But that’s why we have Steven Austin on the bench.”
At a club level, Rubes sites 2007 was particularly memorable year, with the team entering the finals in fourth place.
“We didn’t have enough players at the start of the season,” Rubes said. “We barely made it to the playoffs, and then we won.”
With the Bears struggling for both a home arena and players at the start of the 2007 season, they went 14-8-4-2 to edge out the Brisbane Blue Tongues by three points and the Western Sydney Ice Dogs by a further four for the last playoff position. With key players Vladan Stransky and Roberto Franchini missing the finals due to injury, Schlamp agreed that it was a surprising result in his first year for the Bears.
“With teams beating Brisbane at the end of the year for us to just squeak into the finals, we were fourth place going in and the last team to make it,” Schlamp said. “Everything just ended up seeming to go our way that year and we ended up winning the final in overtime.”
With the Bears still rebuilding, the 2014 squad has shown great promise so far and with Rubes still behind the team, anything could happen.
This is the second of a three feature pieces on Vlad Rubes. theAIHL.com will be looking into his thoughts on the Bears and how the AIHL has grown and evolved in its 1-year history.