Travelling in a time of crisis

16 November 2020

This week brings two road games, both on the shores of the Baltic and both against opposition struggling to keep playing through the pandemic. Dinamo Riga is rooted to the foot of the KHL table, with the Latvians regularly hampered by losing players to quarantine. Jokerit, unusually, faces a battle to get into the playoff places in the West and, again, is looking for reinforcements to a squad with 14 regulars currently absent.

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Dinamo Riga (Nov. 16)

Last season: The Dragons have never been beaten in Riga and last season we made it four wins from four in the Latvian capital. Ethan Werek and Luke Lockhart were among the scorers in a 3-1 victory. The Latvians got revenge in our ‘home’ game in February, winning 2-1 after the fixture was moved to Novosibirsk due the start of China’s coronavirus lockdown.

Familiar faces: There are a few ex-Dragons involved with Dinamo at the moment. Gunars Skvorcovs, a forward who featured four times this season but played most of his time with us in the VHL, joined his hometown team during the international break. On defense, Mathew Maione had a brief spell with Red Star at the start of last season but has now returned to Riga, where he made his biggest impact in the KHL. Ondrej Vitasek, a stalwart of our 2018/19 roster is also with Dinamo but is currently on the injured list. Gleb Zyryanov is also in Latvia on a try-out contract. Goalie Alexander Lazushin moved from Red Star to Dinamo this season, but after four unsuccessful appearance he has apparently moved on once again.

On the other side, Danny Kristo played for Dinamo in 2017/18, compiling 21 (8+13) points in 42 games.

Background: This is a game between the teams at the foot of each Conference. Both clubs have struggled to keep a roster together in the face of the pandemic, with Dinamo running into difficulties with players going in and out of quarantine. The Latvians are on a 12-game losing streak at present and the team has also had to forfeit four games this term due to its difficulties in putting a team on the ice. Three further games had to be rearranged – one of them already finished with a 0-3 loss at Barys, two more will follow in January.

It says much for the problems that Peteris Skudra is facing that so far this season he has had 45 players on the ice – four goalies, 14 defensemen and 27 forwards. With such a high churn, it’s hardly surprising that the team is struggling for any kind of coherent game. However, Saturday’s match-up with Avtomobilist showed signs of promise: Dinamo led against the Eastern Conference high flyer before losing out in overtime – the team’s first point in exactly one month.


Jokerit Helsinki (Nov. 18)

Last season: The Dragons only beat Jokerit once, a 6-3 home win back in 2017. But last season the guys twice came close, losing 2-3 at home in November 2019 and 3-4 on the road to a late Mikko Lehtonen goal.

Familiar faces: Veli-Matti Savinainen is the only ex-Dragon in the Finnish ranks and he is expected to miss the game due to illness. Joonas Jarvinen, the first man to play 100 games for KRS, is currently on Jokerit’s books on a try-out basis and could get a game this week after making his debut against SKA on Nov. 10. In our squad, unusually, there is no Finnish presence at all and no previous Jokerit players.

Background: Jokerit, facing a COVID outbreak at present, is struggling to get a team together. The official injured list features 14 names, many of whom would normally be regarded as key players for the Finns. Goalie Janis Kalnins, captain Peter Regin and even ‘Mr Helsinki’ himself, Brian O’Neill, are all out of action at the time of writing. That makes it hard to anticipate what kind of roster Jokerit might be able to put together for Wednesday’s game. The same issue forced the cancellation of the team’s trip to Lokomotiv on Saturday, since most of the replacements on the team did not have the necessary paperwork to travel to Russia.

The crisis is also affecting results. Three of Jokerit’s last five games ended in heavy losses – including a 1-4 reverse at Amur and a 2-5 defeat at Severstal, hardly two of the league’s elite opponents. Even the two victories were hard-won affairs, both coming in overtime after 4-4 ties. One of them, at Barys, saw Jokerit claw back a 0-4 deficit in the third period, but Lauri Marjamaki’s team managed that with a far stronger roster. It’s hard to know what to expect from the team on Wednesday – Jokerit dived into the Finnish Liiga to find recruits to play in its more recent games and we could see a repeat of that against us.

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