16 July 2020
Continuing our series looking at where Kunlun’s players have come from over the last four years, we go deep into the KHL’s heartlands and meet some of stars from Russia and its neighbors.
Alexei Ponikarovsky (2016-18, Ukraine) 28 (13+15) points in 108 games
The Poni express rushed into Beijing with a wealth of experience – 678 NHL appearances, an Olympic call-up for Ukraine in 2002, a Gagarin Cup win at SKA in 2015. Red Star marked the end of his distinguished playing career and Alexei made a significant contribution in the team’s early days. Including playoff games, he stands 6th on the appearance chart (although Victor Bartley and Brandon DeFazio are close behind), and he continued to get on the scoresheet throughout his time with the club. His off-ice role was perhaps even more important though, and in his final season he wore the ‘C’. Ponikarovsky made more appearances for Red Star than any other player from this part of the world.
The national hero
Andrei Kostitsyn (2017/18, Belarus) 13 (3+10) points in 22 games
This was a case of what might have been. Andrei Kostitsyn has been an icon of Belarusian hockey in recent years, earning a big reputation at the Montreal Canadiens and cementing himself as a lynchpin of the national team alongside his brother Sergei. The hope was that he could combine with Wojtek Wolski and Gilbert Brule to provide a free-scoring line of international-class talent under Mike Keenan’s coaching. Unfortunately, an injury sustained during a defeat to Traktor on Oct. 18 wrecked that plan. Kostitsyn had started to show his best form – he was on a run of 6 points in 3 games at the time – but found himself sidelined until the New Year. In all, he played just 22 games, scoring 13 (3+10) points before returning to Dinamo Minsk.
Two other Belarusians, defensemen Roman Graborenko and Pavel Vorobei, have also played for the Dragons.
The Canadian Kazakh
Martin St. Pierre (2018/19, Kazakhstan) 12 (4+8) points in 27 games
Born in Ottawa and polished into a pro in the Ontario Hockey League, Martin St. Pierre is an unlikely Kazakh. However, when he left North America for the last time to join Medvescak in 2013, it started a new adventure. A year in Croatia led to three with Barys, time enough to gain a Kazakh passport and start playing for the national team. And, after completing half a season with us in 2018-19, he linked up with his new nation again to win promotion to the World Championship Elite Pool.
Additionally, since playing for KRS in 2016-17, Toronto-born Jesse Blacker moved to Barys and adopted Kazakh citizenship. He made his international debut in February’s Olympic Qualification tournament in Nur-Sultan.
The unseen signing
Krisjanis Redlihs (2018/19, Latvia) 2 (0+2) points in 12 games
Five Latvians have worn our colors, but only Arturs Kulda managed a full, uninterrupted season. However, the more interesting acquisition was defenseman Krisjanis Redlihs, who arrived during an injury crisis in 2018. Grabbing a signing at short notice isn’t a big surprise, but after Krisjanis made his debut against his old club, Dinamo Riga, we learned that the transfer owed plenty to technology. Head coach Jussi Tapola admitted that the evening’s game was the first time he had seen Redlihs in action, credited club partner InStat with the valuable statistical profiling that identified the Latvian international as the player we needed. Tapola pronounced himself satisfied with the results of that recruitment policy, but unfortunately the stats were unable to anticipate yet another injury: Redlihs’ quality was never in doubt, but he managed just 12 games before getting hurt himself.
The other Latvians on the team were Oskars Bartulis, another defenseman hampered by injuries, and two players promoted from our farm club last season – Arturs Salija and Gunars Skvorcovs.
The Gagarin Cup winner
Rinat Ibragimov (2017/18, Russia) 4 (1+3) points 28 games
There have been 22 Russian players at the club, although only one of them – defenseman Sergei Peretyagin – played more than one season. Oleg Yashin recorded his most productive KHL campaign as a Dragon while goalie Andrei Makarov enjoyed some of his best times on our team. But arguably the biggest name to sign from Russia followed Mike Keenan to the club in 2017. Rinat Ibragimov won a Gagarin Cup with Keenan at Metallurg and with ample experience of playing at the highest level, he was a natural pick when the head coach took over in China in 2017. For all his vast experience – Rinat won the Russian Superleague with Magnitka in 2007 and was a World U18 Champion back in 2004, he was young enough to be close to his peak, able to lead by example and boost the levels of our emerging players. Unfortunately, though, we rarely got a chance to see him at his best: injuries limited the blue liner to just 28 games and brought his career to an end.