A day to remember. Spartak Moscow 1 Kunlun Red Star 2

7 September 2018

September 7 is always a resonant date in the hockey calendar. On this day seven years ago, our sport suffered one of its most painful losses when a plane taking Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s team to a game in Minsk crashed on take-off. None of the players or coaches survived.

This year was the first time the KHL had scheduled games for that date since the disaster. Many of those involved had close ties with the men who lost their lives that day; all of them felt the loss as part of the wider hockey family. There was a somber mood in Moscow, with a moment’s silence before the game and a section of the arena given over to commemorative jerseys recalling the Loko team of 2011.

In such an environment, it was difficult to focus on the job at hand. With so much emotion around the game, matters of winning and losing quickly seem trivial. But professionalism, and a desire to pay tribute, drove our guys on.

The form book made Spartak the favorite here. The Red-and-Whites had won their first two games, while Red Star lost twice, albeit coming close in Sochi two days ago. But the evidence of those opening engagements suggested that a competitive Red Star team was forming and today reinforced that point.

It wasn’t pretty. As in Sochi, the opening goal was a long time in coming and the game remained scoreless deep into the third period. Then came Ville Lajunen, returning to the club where he played last season. The Finnish D-man had to wait, however. After picking out the top shelf from the left channel he was kept in suspense as Spartak appealed for offside. The key moment was when Marc-Andre Gragnani brought the puck into the zone; close scrutiny of the video showed that Olli Palola did not fully cross the blue line before the puck and the goal was good. Spartak’s unsuccessful challenge had further consequences – this season’s new rules mean a two-minute delaying the game penalty added insult to the home team’s injury.

With 10 minutes to play, the situation was similar to the one we faced in Sochi: a long wait for a goal, then ahead as the game neared its end. This time, though, the outcome was different. Palola grabbed a vital second goal, chasing the puck into the corners as his team-mates changed on the fly, then combining with Patrik Lundh to get two shots on Nikita Bespalov’s net. One was saved, the second was successful. 2-0, with less than three minutes to play.

There was still time for anxiety. Alexander Osipov flashed in a shot from the blue line that whistled past Alexander Lazushin’s post. The rebound came back for Alexander Khokhlachyov, who reacted sharply to squeeze the puck home from a tight angle. 1-2, 99 seconds left. Surely another late heartache was not waiting for our team.

Happily not. This time Red Star saw out the closing seconds and secured the win. Off the mark, and ready to go to Magnitogorsk on Sunday for the next game.

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