Memories: extending the boundaries of success

9 March 2019

We began our look back at the highlights of the 2018/19 campaign by talking about victories against three teams we had never defeated before. Now, lets look at some games that could be seen as historical for our club from a geographical point of view. During the course of the regular season, the Dragons jetted off to 22 cities in six countries. Wed won games in half of them in our first two seasons, and this time around we conquered four more fortresses, taking the total to 15. The updated roll of honor now includes Nizhnekamsk, Kazan, Podolsk and Astana.

The victory in Kazan was covered in Part 1, since that was the first time Red Star had ever defeated Ak Bars. Against Vityaz, Neftekhimik and Barys we had already recorded wins, but only on home ice. This season, we managed to do it on the road.


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Sep. 24: Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 0 Kunlun Red Star 2

The Dragons two previous trips to Nizhnekamsk had ended in one-goal losses 3-4 and 1-2. The first game was notable for a brave fightback. Down 0-4, we battled our way back into the game and just fell short of salvaging a result. The second meeting followed a similar, albeit less dramatic, path: we allowed two goals, pulled one back but could add nothing more.

As a result, when Ville Lajunens 13th-minute point shot was redirected into the net by Veli-Matti Savinainen, we already had a small first: never before had Red Star taken the lead at this venue. With an advantage to hold onto, the Dragons adopted the kind of game plan wed expected to see from a team coached by Finnish staff. This was a fine display of defensive rigor.

The stats spoke eloquently of how Neftekhimik struggled to break down Red Stars rearguard. The home team outshot us 40-22, and spent more than 16 minutes in our zone compared with less than six at the other end. The Dragons penalty kill was kept busy as well no fewer than nine power play opportunities came to the host, while our own PP had just three chances to do its work. Despite the pressure, we held firm even on the two occasions when we faced a 3-on-5 situation.

With five minutes left, and Neftekhimik already showing signs of frustration, a mix-up between the goalie and a defenseman led to a catastrophic error: the puck was lost behind the net, Taylor Beck skate deflected it back out in front and Brandon Yip tucked away one of the easiest goals of his career, scoring into an empty net from centimeters away. Andrei Nazarovs team struggled to even muster a final storm of Red Stars net and never found an opportunity to replace the goalie.

Its fair to say that our first victory in Nizhnekamsk was not the most dramatic of games greater drama was on its way in Kazan a couple of days later but it was a fine tactical performance. Jussi Tapola demonstrated just why Finnish coaches are renowned for delivering highly structured, systemic hockey.


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Nov. 3: Vityaz 1 Kunlun Red Star 2

Our first visit to Podolsk was high-scoring and entertaining. Twice, Red Star led, only to lose out 3-5. The following year it was all a bit different: tight and tied after two periods, the home side got a power play winner to take a 2-1 verdict.

The third encounter could be seen as direct revenge for that second loss. The scoreline was a mirror image and the sequence of events strongly recalled the meeting in 2017/18. This time Red Star held a clear advantage, both on the scoreboard and in the game. True, that control of the play might have been stronger had the team not, once again, run into disciplinary problems: the Dragons faced 10 minutes on the PK, compared with just four for Vityaz. However, the shot count was firmly in our favor at 34-26 and, more importantly, the final score went our way.

Wojtek Wolski was playing his third game after rejoining Red Star from Magnitogorsk and he collected his first points. In the 25th minute, with Kunlun on the power play, his pass found Brandon Yip in the center to open the scoring. However, the lead lasted less than five minutes before Alexander Nikulin forced the puck past Barry Brust at the other end.

Right at the start of the third period, Wolski struck again, unhesitatingly firing in a shot after Johan Sundstrom won a face-off. Wolski went for placement rather the pure power and found the open corner of the Vityaz net.

Two points for Wolski, then, but the team rated goalie Barry Brust its best player on the day. His performance in the third period earned him the accolades. With 19 minutes to preserve the lead after Wolskis goal, Barry gave it everything to keep the home team at bay. Once again, Red Star had to contend with four minutes of penalties and for the final 66 seconds Vityaz iced an extra skater, but it was to no avail. The victory was secured.


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Jan 10: Barys 1 Kunlun Red Star 3

Astana will always hold a special place in the history of our club. Here in the Kazakh capital on Aug. 5, 2016, the Dragons won for the first time. That 3-1 success came in an exhibition game; on official business at the Barys Arena results were less forthcoming. In our first season we suffered a comprehensive 1-4 reverse, the following season we led until the last few minutes, only to lose a goal and see Barys go on to win it 4-3 in overtime.

A tough finish last time, and a tough start this time. After just 39 seconds, Tomi Karhunen was retrieving the puck from his. But that was the first and last time our goalie was beaten. By the first intermission, Red Star had turned this game around.

Some superb work from our power play made the difference. Patrik Lundh and Brandon Yip punished Barys for its first two penalties and the Dragons were in flight once again.

Subsequently, the game followed a pattern similar to that in Nizhnekamsk. It wasnt often that we saw this kind of approach during the season. More often, once in front Red Star surged forward in search of more goals and often got burned on the counter attack. But this evening in Astana saw some textbook game management. Let the opposition take the initiative, let their players wear themselves out trying to force the tempo. Well wait for them on our blue line and make sure they cant get through. In the end, theyll make a mistake.

That blunder came, albeit only in the last seconds. On the power play, and with an empty net, Barys gave up possession and Brandon Yip duly wrapped up the win. And thus we secured another victory on the classic Finnish model introduced by Jussi Tapola that season.

However, it proved to Tapolas last hurrah. Within 10 days, he had left the club to be replaced by Curt Fraser. And so this historic win in Astana can be regarded as his swansong with the Dragons.

 

Now just seven cities remain unconquered on the KHL map: Nizhny Novgorod, Cherepovets, Yaroslavl, St. Petersburg, Magnitogorsk, Helsinki and Avangards temporary home in Balashikha. Despite not winning there, weve taken points from the first three … but more of that next time.

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