Penguins to sign Czech coach Ivan Hlinka

Former Czech Republic Olympic coach Ivan Hlinka is expected to be signed to a three-year deal as the new coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins sometime this week.

Hlinka has served as an associate coach for the team since giving up his position with the Czech team in February.

The expected move sits well with NHL scoring champion Jaromir Jagr, who played on the 1998 Czech Republic Olympic team coached by Hlinka.

"Every time I've played for him, I've had success," Jagr said. "He is a coach who respects his players."

Hlinka will replace coach Herb Brooks, who took over the reins after management fired Kevin Constantine in December. At the time Brooks said he would only take the position on an interim basis, then move back into his scouting position.

Penguins general manager Craig Patrick said he has admired Hlinka's coaching abilities in the past, and his organizational skills.

"He did a great job in Nagano, but the most important thing to us is what he's done with the Czech national team since then," Patrick said. "Their program was in disarray when he took it over, and he brought it along to be the top program in world right now as far as international competition. That speaks volumes about what we think he can do."

Under Brooks, the seventh-seeded Penguins carried out a first-round playoff upset of second-seeded Washington and a 2-0 lead in their second-round series against top-seeded Philadelphia before a downhill slide lost the series 4-2.

It was expected that Hlinka would become the first European-born coach in the NHL, but the Penguins were beaten to the punch with the announcement the Chicago Black Hawks had hired former Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach and Finnish native Alpo Suhonen as their head coach.

Although the Penguins boast more European players of any team in the NHL, Hlinka has maintained the team will not stick to a European style of hockey next season.

The Penguins' top seven scorers last season were Europeans: Jagr, Alexei Kovalev, Robert Lang, Martin Straka, Jan Hrdina, Alexei Morozov and Jiri Slegr.

The team had 14 Europeans on its roster while playing Philalephia in the playoffs, and are expected to add at least one more if 1998 first-round draft pick Milan Kraft of the Czech Republic makes the club.

Part of the adjustment to the NHL for Hlinka will be speaking English as a first language. Until now he has addressed the Czech players in Czech and only used English when speaking to a group of players.

"I can promise my English will be better every day," Hlinka said. "English will be my language. I have to respect the other players, too."

Hlinka is one of the Czech Republic's best-known players along with Jagr and Dominik Hasek. He played in the NHL for the Vancouver Canucks from 1981-83, scoring 42 goals and getting 81 assists in 137 games.

He was also a member of the Czechoslovakian team in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics.

Hlinka is to return from the Czech Republic this week to take part in the Penguins' preparations for next weekend's NHL draft.