4 September 2020
The new season is underway, and the Dragons are ready to take flight. In Mytishchi, we’re finishing off our last few jobs before we can open the arena for our first home games later this month, so Alexei Kovalev’s new team starts with a road trip. Read on for the details of our first three opponents.
Metallurg (Sep. 4)
Traditionally Metallurg is a tough opponent for us, but last season brought the Dragons’ first ever victory in regular season play. In mid-November, we won 3-1 in Beijing on goals from Adam Cracknell, Spencer Foo and Luke Lockhart. Later in the season we suffered a narrow 1-2 loss on the road in the Urals.
We face off against former Dragon Taylor Beck, who joined Magnitka from Avangard in the summer. Beck played 60 games for us, scoring 35 (13+22) points in the latter half of 2017/18 and the start of 2018/19. He’ll be up against our former Metallurg defenseman Denis Osipov, who was on the roster in Magnitogorsk in 2016 when the club lifted the Gagarin Cup.
It’s a new-look Metallurg for the coming season, with several big names jettisoned over the summer. The Magnitka defense is totally reshaped following the departure of stalwart Evgeny Biryukov (who played the little matter of 779 KHL games for the team). Viktor Antipin and Alexei Bereglazov also departed. Up front, it was a similar story, with Brandon Kozun, Eric O’Dell, Dennis Rasmussen, Andrei Loktionov, Roman Lyubimov and Evgeny Timkin all moving on.
There’s proven KHL talent coming in to replace them, though. Apart from Beck, Sergei Plotnikov, Nikolai Prokhorkin and Maxim Karpov have a strong reputation on the forward line. At the back, Yegor Martynov, Mikhail Pashnin and Artyom Zemchyonok also have years of experience at the top level. More intriguingly, Igor Shvyryov and Andrei Chibisov return from time in North America and will be seeking to prove themselves here.
Traktor (Sep. 6)
Traktor was one of first opponents last term as well, coming to Shenzhen in mid-September for back-to-back games at our temporary home in the south. The mini-series saw both teams pick up a 2-1 win, but was notable for setting a Red Star attendance record – 8,115 fans saw the second game – and for bring Tyler Wong’s first goal for the club. The New Year brought two trips to Chelyabinsk, a 1-3 loss in January and a shoot-out defeat in February during that long road trip at the end of the campaign.
The current Red Star roster is studded with ex-Traktor players. Anton Glinkin is most familiar with the club: a Chelyabinsk native, he played on the team for 10 seasons. Fellow forward Yegor Dugin also learned his hockey in Traktor’s academy and began his pro career there, while Alexei Kruchinin’s career got a big lift when he moved to the Southern Urals in 2015. Veteran defenseman Oleg Piganovich was also a Traktor player in the early days of the KHL.
The big news in Chelyabinsk this summer was the return of head coach Anvar Gatiyatulin from SKA. He masterminded the team’s run to the Eastern Conference final in 2018, Traktor’s best season since finishing runner-up to Dynamo in 2013. The club’s summer business also looks promising. Swedish imports Lawrence Pilut (defense) and Pontus Aberg (forward) both add quality, while Czech international goalie Roman Will could be the answer to last season’s goaltending problems.
Then there’s Vitaly Kravtsov, one of the KHL’s enigmas. He exploded into action as a teenager in that 2018 playoff run, had a full season at home in 2018/19 then headed to New York seeking fame and fortune in the NHL. Things didn’t work out as hoped and last season he returned to Traktor on loan. However, he couldn’t settle at home on a team that changed head coach shortly after he arrived, and made 11 unmemorable appearances before the deal was cancelled. Now, with little clarity about the resumption of hockey after the current Stanley Cup playoffs are done, he’s back on a longer-term loan. Still only 20, a strong season this time could revive his status as a stellar prospect.
Avtomobilist (Sep. 8)
We travelled here early in the season on our first road trip and faced a team that was unbeaten from the start of the season. That record almost tumbled: Red Star led twice and took the game to overtime before losing out to a Brooks Macek goal. The German international was back to cause more problems in January, scoring his third goal against us in a 4-1 win.
Our new roster has three former Motormen. Defenseman Dmitry Megalinsky played three seasons in Yekaterinburg and wore the ‘A’ for Avtomobilist during that time. Fellow blue-liner Denis Osipov enjoyed his first full season of KHL action with club back in 2011/12. More recently, Ilya Krikunov played two seasons in Yekaterinburg as part of a potent offense that also boasted the likes of Nigel Dawes, Stephane da Costa and Dan Sexton.
Avtomobilist staged something of a coaching coup in the summer, bringing Bill Peters over from Canada. Peters left Edmonton under a cloud amid allegations of racial abuse a decade earlier, but he has happy memories of Russia after coaching his country to a World Championship gold here in 2016. His lack of KHL know-how is balanced by assistant coach German Titov, who has coached several teams in this league.
On the ice, the departure of leading forward Nigel Dawes is a blow. However, the club opted not to seek a direct replacement and instead used the import vacancy to hire Chay Genoway on defense. That makes sense: last season’s Motormen were not short of scoring, but sometimes looked weak at the other end of the ice.