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Culture news, 10.04.2007 15:20

Smith leaves Coyotes

hockey Associate coach Barry Smith left the Coyotes on Monday to accept a head coaching position with a team in the Russian Elite League.

Smith, who had two years left on his contract with Phoenix, is going to coach the St. Petersburg-based SKA club.

Smith said he had a clause in his contract that allowed him to opt out of the deal if a head coaching position presented itself, and that the Coyotes were very supportive of his decision to leave.

“Because of that, it was hard for me to walk away, but I have a new challenge in front of me and I'm not getting any younger,” Smith,

55, said. “...This has been a positive experience because I learned more about myself, and you push yourself harder and work harder sometimes in a losing cause than you do when you're winning.”

Smith has been head coach Wayne Gretzky's right-hand man during Gretzky's first two seasons as an NHL head coach, and ran practices in Gretzky's absence. Although his skills as a tactician are respected, Smith drew complaints from several Coyotes players, privately, that he is too intense and too brash.

“I'm not afraid to answer to that, because guess what? Sometimes (life) is uncomfortable, and, sometimes we're going to push them,” Smith said.

Gretzky could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday regarding Smith's departure.

Smith said he plans to head to Russia within a few weeks and hopes to pick his staff soon after.

He does not speak Russian.

The SKA club finished in 14th place this season.

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