3 September 2019
Kunlun Red Star 4 Salavat Yulaev Ufa 3 SO
The Wolski-Brule combination did the business as Red Star made a winning start to the 2019/20 KHL season. Wojtek Wolski scored twice, taking his tally to 100 KHL goals, while Brule potted the game winner in the shoot-out.
Wolski, who came into the game on 98 career KHL goals divided between spells with Kunlun (12), Torpedo (45) and Metallurg (41), scored two more in the second period. That brought up a landmark for the Canadian forward and opened a 3-1 lead against one of the likely leaders in the Eastern Conference.
The game also brought a rekindling of Wolski’s effective partnership with Brule. The pair scored freely during a brief spell playing together in 2017/18 and combined for two goals here today. And it was a successful Kunlun debut for Adam Cracknell: the former Dallas Stars man opened the scoring and his work on the slot, obscuring Juha Metsola’s view as Brule set up Wolski, played a big part in creating Red Star’s third goal of the game. The center also produced a classic ‘shall not be moved’ play for the first goal; as Mathew Maione’s shot came in, Cracknell would not be dislodged from his place in front of Metsola and got the vital touch to redirect the puck beyond Metsola.
Admittedly, it wasn’t plain sailing. A third-period revival saw the game tied and Red Star was left killing a penalty at the end of overtime as Ufa ramped up the pressure. But an assured debut between the piping from Jeremy Smith took us to a shoot-out and Brule earned the win in the first round of sudden death attempts.
After 40 minutes, the team looked well-placed to begin the season with an impressive victory in regulation. However, the side-effects of our disrupted pre-season schedule became more apparent in the third frame. Remember, our first team had just three exhibition games to prepare for the current campaign and that lack of game-day experience told as Salavat Yulaev stepped up the pace to tie the game. Teemu Hartikainen pulled one back on the wraparound, Nikita Soshnikov got a lucky bounce off Vic Bartley’s skate to tie the game and we were set for a nervous finish. Even then, though, there were chances to snatch the win: Cory Kane pounced on a loose puck in center ice, only to be denied an overtime goal by Metsola. It took guts to hold on, with Red Star blocking 17 shots over the 65 minutes to mute the visitor’s dangerous offense, but this season’s roster of Dragons shows encouraging signs of eliminating the soft underbelly that hurt the team in the past.
It all added up to plenty of positives from the Dragons’ opening game in Shenzhen. And the sight of a decent crowd – 5,000 plus – for the southern city’s first glimpse of KHL hockey suggests that China’s interest in hockey is steadily growing.
There’s little chance to catch our breath, though. Tomorrow sees the teams back in action in Shenzhen for the second round of battle. Can Curt Fraser and his team make it two from two?