A game of two halves

13 January 2020

Kunlun Red Star 3 Sibir Novosibirsk 4

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When Sibir comes to China, it’s destined to be 60 minutes of thrills and spills. Today’s game did not quite match last year’s epic fightback when Red Star clawed its way from 1-5 in the third period to force overtime, but tradition was honored by the visitor as it hauled its way from 0-3 to snatch victory. For Red Star, so impressive for half of the game, this was a bitter blow. Instead of sitting in the relative comfort of sixth place tonight, the Dragons remain perilously perched in eighth, undone by a Sibir revival in the second half of the game.

At the start, everything went according to plan. A disciplined first period performance saw Red Star stay out of the box, execute its defensive plan to keep Sibir on the outside and take advantage of the chances created at the other end. Two goals in just over two minutes midway through the opening frame gave everyone a lift. First, Tyler Wong and Spencer Foo combined to set up Luke Lockhart for his ninth of the season. Next, captain Brandon Yip potted his 13th of the season after Andrew Miller’s shot was deflected into his path. After struggling for goals on the road last week, a sudden rush of scoring was just what the doctor ordered. The only one not enjoying it was visiting goalie Harri Sateri, called back to the bench by Sibir head coach Nikolai Zavarukhin.

Yip’s goal put him on top of the team’s goalscoring chart, one ahead of Tyler Wong. But there’s a healthy rivalry building in the race to lead the team’s productivity this season, and the 29th minute saw Wong draw level with his captain. He gleefully slammed the loose puck into the net after Foo’s flash and dash sliced a way through the Sibir defense and his shot was too hot for incoming goalie Alexei Krasikov to handle. So far, so good. Almost too good to be true.

Fans who thought this game was already done might have forgotten how the Dragons’ Siberian expeditions have turned into epic affairs. Earlier this season, too, we saw a big recovery in Novosibirsk as our guys salvaged a 2-2 tie after trailing 0-2. Today, though, the boot was destined to be on the other foot. Sibir responded to Wong’s goal with a quick double of its own thanks to Mikael Ruohomaa and Yegor Milovzorov. The latter was assisted by youngster Nikita Shashkov, who would go on to have a big impact on the third period.

The 20-year-old was a hot prospect last season, but his progress cooled a little this year. Recalled from playing VHL hockey in Uzbekistan, though, he has started to show more signs of his potential. His first KHL goal of the season came last week; today he followed up that helper for Milovzorov with a vital piece of play as Red Star looked to reassert itself on the power play in the third. Sibir was feeling the pressure until Shashkov led a breakout and drew a penalty that spiked our guns.

Later, the visitor would tie the scores on a PP of its own when Danil Romantsev was allowed too much space to collect Jyrki Jokipakka’s pass and beat Jeremy Smith. Then, with thoughts turning to overtime, Shashkov carved out an opportunity on his own initiative and displayed the vision to pick out Dmitry Sayustov for the winning goal.

That wasn’t quite the end. Curt Fraser swapped Smith for another skater, then a penalty on Sibir gave 70 seconds of 6-on-4 action. But Krasikov held on as Yip and Trevor Murphy smashed in shots from distance and, this time, the bounces just didn’t go our way as the clock ran down on a frustrating loss.

However, there’s little time to brood: tomorrow sees an instant rematch at the Shougang Arena. The Dragons are fired up for revenge.

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