Our ex-forward Wojtek Wolski announced the end of his playing career earlier this week. Let’s look back at his storied journey through the game and, in particular, his time at Kunlun Red Star.
When he arrived in the Dragons’ Lair, Wojtek was already a well-known figure in the KHL. He had a place in the record books – while playing for Torpedo he scored the fastest hat-trick in KHL history. And in 2016 he helped Metallurg win the Gagarin Cup.
He was part of the Magnitogorsk team that set out to defend that title, but after sustaining a serious spinal injury in a game against Barys his hockey career – and indeed his long-term health – was in jeopardy. The 2016/2017 campaign was over almost before it began and the following summer, happily restored to fitness, he signed for Kunlun Red Star. Returning to Magnitogorsk with his new team for the pre-season Ramazan Memorial Trophy he, and all of us, received a pleasant surprise when Magnitka’s GM Gennady Velichkin presented Wojtek with a silver medal won by Metallurg in the previous season.
After that, Wojtek got down to business. He scored a goal on his Red Star debut; the next game brought a hat-trick of assists and his first seven appearances as Dragon saw him among the points. That run came to an end in a game against Vityaz in Shanghai.
He continued to score regularly, and even repeated that hat-trick of helpers in a game against Barys, but in December our paths parted. We traded Wojtek to – where else? – Metallurg, who saw him as a useful reinforcement ahead of the Gagarin Cup campaign (although, in the event, Ak Bars had other ideas). Wolski’s first spell in China yielded 28 (7+21) points in 32 games. His 21 assists remained the best on the team for that season.
Wojtek didn’t manage to win a second Gagarin Cup, but he did get an Olympic call-up. He went to Korea with Team Canada and brought back a bronze medal – one of the highlights of his career.
The new season began with Metallurg – and even included a couple of points against us in Magnitogorsk. However, by the end of October he unexpectedly ended his contract in the Urals … and headed back to us!
This time around, unfortunately, injuries took their toll. In November and December he was among our top players but at the start of January he got injured and, as it turned out, missed most of the rest of the season. This wasn’t a happy time for the team: apart from Wojtek’s injury, Taylor Beck left the club, several other players picked up injuries and we changed head coaches in mid-January.
The last two games of the season, though, were among the most important for the team in several years as we finally returned to Beijing. Our new Shougang Arena opened with games against two big rivals from the Eastern Conference – Admiral and Barys. Wolski recovered in time to play and confirmed his return with four points across the two games. His second season with the club yielded 26 games for 13 (5+8) points.
In the summer he signed a contract extension and returned to camp as a rejuvenated force. Impressive in pre-season, he made a flying start to the season with two goals in our opening game against Salavat Yulaev in Shenzhen.
Sadly, though, injuries again took their toll. A lower body injury saw him miss the whole of October’s action. Wojtek returned to the team in November and gave it everything, but found there was simply nothing left in the tank. His last game for the Dragons was on Nov. 28, 2019 against Avangard.
Next came a short spell in Switzerland before finishing the season in the Czech Republic with Trinec Ocelari. It was a blazing finish, with 17 points in 13 games but, like most of Europe, the Czech were unable to finish their season. Wojtek stayed home, kept himself in shape and then emerged in Battle of the Blades, a Canadian TV figure skating contest. In partnership with Megan Duhamel, he even finished up winning the top prize.
But that was his last competitive outing on the ice. On December 15, 2020, Wojtek Wolski announced his retirement from playing hockey. It brings to an end a great career, and while there are plenty of ‘could-have-beens’ about his time in China, Wolski’s contribution to our club remains notable.